Film Review: REPULSION (1965)

Film Review: REPULSION (1965)

Oct 22, 2018

IMDb: Repulsion (1965)
Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser

Having read and heard about this film for years, I finally got a chance to sit down and watch REPULSION from beginning to end. Now I can truly understand what all the fuss was about with Roman Polanski as one of THE premiere filmmakers of the Sixties. I can also see why he should have been the ONLY director considered to helm the equally terrifying, paranoid and claustrophobic ROSEMARY’S BABY.

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First of all, leave it to Polanski to construct the most twisted cinematic dichotomy ever: having French sex goddess Catherine Deneuve, one of the film world’s most beautiful actresses ever, playing a woman completely allergic to the touch of any man. Because what results is not a skin rash, but a horrific eruption of mental instability. Her blond beauty is the perfect and pristine canvas upon which to paint a picture of a damaged woman gradually losing her grasp on reality.

Not helping matters much is the indifference of her flatmate, who also happens to be her more outgoing sister, Helene (Yvonne Furneaux). Carol is equally horrified, tortured and even left feeling isolated by Helene’s open relationship (at least around her) with a married man, the randy Michael (Ian Hendry). The sounds coming from Helene’s room that assault Carol at night and his toiletries stashed about in the bathroom leave nothing to the imagination about what they’re up to, although they have no idea how desperately off Carol really is.

In fact, as most of the characters go about their own lives, nobody seems to have any idea of what Carol is going through. The horny, chauvinistic attitudes that ruled the day during this decade keep any of the male characters who have direct interaction with Carol from realizing that she’s more than just a “woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.” Michael sees signs but doesn’t acknowledge it, and the one man who cares for her, Colin (John Fraser), just chalks it up to what he thinks is some attractive ‘bird’ playing hard-to-get. And the women? Her co-workers at the spa where she’s employed are about as helpful as her sister. (Read: useless.)

But once Helene and Michael go on holiday, leaving Carol all alone for several days, is when the film’s downward spiral into madness and horror really begins. With no real, meaningful human contact, Carol’s disintegrating mind is free to turn every little imperfection in the apartment and in her psyche into a journey through the ninth circle of Hell. Cracks in the plaster become yawning chasms, every little noise becomes an ominous portent of something awful, and even worse – crank calls on the phone herald the arrival of a phantom rapist…a horrific symbol of everything Carol loathes and despises about men…though we don’t even know of any relationship she’s had with one.

The script by Polanski and writing partner Gerard Brach is a brilliant exercise in psychological torture, both for Carol and for the audience. She is unable to escape her increasing psychosis, and because we are as trapped inside her head as she is, neither are we. Even with the details we know that are real, we still have to check ourselves and what “we” are seeing, as a psychotic break for poor Carol looms closer and closer. The question is not whether her mind will finally snap, but when, and what will it unleash? The answers finally do come in a terrifyingly twisted finale that will shatter and destroy both Carol’s life and of those close to her.

So what is the event that set her off on this hapless path? How did Carol get to be like this without anyone noticing, other than being distracted by her incredible beauty? The clues are in the beginning and the ending of the film, and the fact that it leaves you speculating about her back story long after the last frame has faded is a testament again to the skillful writing.

Even if you are not a fan of Polanski’s or of the thriller genre, REPULSION is definitely one “must-see” to put on your list.

Trailer:

Originally published December 11th, 2016