Saturday, 21 November 2015

Film Review: Repulsion (1965)

Fig. 1: Original Theatrical Poster
Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965) is a psychological horror about a girl named Carol, whose mental state deteriorates at an alarming rate when her sister, Helen, leaves her alone in their shared flat to go on holiday. "It is one of Roman Polanski's most brilliant films: a deeply disturbing, horribly convincing psychological thriller that is also that rarest of things: a scary movie in which a woman is permitted to do the killing." (Bradshaw, 2013)

Fig. 2: Carol and Helen.
The flat is used as a visual representation of Carol's mental illness; it becomes a "gruesome account of the crumbling of her mind" (Crowther, 1965). It's increasingly messy, things are broken, cracks appear in walls and hands appear from nowhere to try and grab her. Though there is not much information on Carol's relationship with her sister (fig. 2), it is clear Carol does not feel safe without her, shown by her begging Helen not to leave and her increased paranoia when Helen is gone. This explains Carol's instant dislike of Helen's boyfriend, Michael; she feels Michael is taking her sister from her.

Fig. 3: Colin breaks into the flat.
It is interesting, that all the male characters in the film are shown in some way to "force" their way to Carol. Colin, her admirer, breaks the door down to get to her (fig. 3) - though he may feel his intentions are not untoward, his sudden obsession with her is discomforting, and it is not entirely absurd that Carol does not feel safe with him. The landlord also breaks into the flat to get to Carol, at first just demanding the rent, then attempting to sexually assault her once he has it. Even Carol's imagined rapist makes his way her via a door with a wardrobe blocking it. Needless to say, Carol's fear and general distrust of men is not unjustified, even her sister's boyfriend has questionable morals, as it's revealed he is married to another woman and visits Helen most nights for sex. 

Fig. 4: Family Photograph.
Carol fears men's lust for her which "develops into a neurotic fascination and horror of dust and dirt of all kinds, a condition that escalates into agoraphobia and paranoid episodes." (Bradshaw, 2013). Though it is not made clear, shots of a family photograph (fig. 4) kept in the flat, that show a young Carol staring vacantly into the distance, are made to feel sinister. Not only does this suggest that Carol has always suffered from a mental illness to some degree, but also implies something happened in her childhood to make her the way she is. It is guessed, that her fear of intimacy and sex may stem from her being assaulted as a child, by her father or another male adult.

Fig. 5: Hands from the walls.
As Carol's condition gets worse, the appearance of the flat is warped and changed. Rooms become bigger, corridors are longer and darker, walls close in, masculine hands appear from nowhere to grab her (fig. 5). "The dressed carcass of a rabbit on a platter becomes a monstrous symbol as the picture goes along. Small cracks in the walls of the apartment flow into crunching indicators of the heroine's crumbling mind." (Crowther, 1965).

Repulsion becomes increasingly frightening as Carol's hallucinations become more frequent. It is, in many ways, tragic, that it's possible some childhood trauma has turned Carol into the person she is, living in fear of something she is forced to encounter every day; men. Polanski has shown excellently through imagery and set design the state of Carol's mind, and "achieved a haunting concept of the pain and pathos of the mentally deranged" (Crowther, 1965), enthralling anyone who watches it.

Figure 1. Original Theatrical Poster (1965) [Poster] At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Figure 2. Carol and Helen. (1965) From: Repulsion. Directed by: Roman Polanski [Film Still] Great Britain: Compton Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Figure 3. Colin breaks into the flat. (1965)  From: Repulsion. Directed by: Roman Polanski [Film Still] Great Britain: Compton Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Figure 4. Family photograph. (1965)  From: Repulsion. Directed by: Roman Polanski [Film Still] Great Britain: Compton Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Figure 5. Hands from the walls. (1965)  From: Repulsion. Directed by: Roman Polanski [Film Still] Great Britain: Compton Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Bradshaw, P. (2013) 'Repulsion - Review' In: The Guardian [Online] At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

Crowther, B. (1965) 'REPULSION' In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on: 21.11.15)

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