If hell is in the details, this is truly a disturbing depiction and an absolute knockout of a movie in the psychological contour made by Roman Polanski. Beautifully crafted in the portrayal of mental disintegration. Shocking, violent and lyrical, masterly stylish, attracts as much in this grim story and rare as the tittle. The screenplay is based on an incident developed by Gerard Brach and Polanski. Shot in London, it was Polanski’s first English-language film and second feature length production, following Knife in the Water (1962), where he proved his knack to infiltrate and expose the angry instincts of sub-conscious mind. Here he goes distance into the foggy chambers of human mind to ascertain the unsightly demons that sometimes take tenure there.
Repulsion was believed to be an entry in the new-horror sub-genre followed by Psycho (1960), but this film takes a way different approach of fear. The difference in the Hitchcock’s movie is we see Norman Bates as a psychopath in the end, but here Polanski takes us to the new level of freight with Carol from the first introduction, coercing the audience to share her distorted sensitivities. In the backdrop of London with an outsider’s eye, the role of Carol quails from aggressive women in her eccentrics and drifts and mind swings to the high-highs to low-lows of emotions.
Repulsion still measured as Polanski’s best work, also brought him to the international limelight. What Polanski finds intriguing and revolting is perceptively female as this movie paved the way for Polanski’s entry into the cinemas of Western Europe and drew attention to Catherine Deneuve with her performance.
The film debuted at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, besides nominated for a BAFTA Award for Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography. Upon the release, Repulsion received considerable critical acclaim and been the first instalment in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy“, followed by Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976) respectively.
Carol Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve), a Belgian/French manicurist lives in Kensington, London, with her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Right from the start, the film is both weird and adamant, establishing a close-up of a huge gelatinous eye, prissily overlaid by the opening titles. In an old apartment, shabby and Carol stares into space in an impassive trance and sleep walks through her days. The outlook of her fascia is fallow and in actual, relates awkwardly with men, thus clearly shows her problems with opposite sex. A would-be suitor, Colin (John Fraser), as a vaguely familiar but annoying acquaintance gets mystified by her behaviour and thereon she snubs his advances, hence hiding her head in her pillow against her sister’s cries of sexual pleasure with her married boyfriend, Michael (Ian Hendry)
Carol is evidently a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her sister, Helen, miscues those signs and casually departs for a fortnight’s holiday with Michael to Italy, leaving Carol back home. Carol appears even more distracted at work, gets sent home by her horse-faced boss. Lonely in her flat and the scatter-brained and abstraction of strange sexual hang ups, she warms up to go a full rein. The rabbit from the fridge is left out in the living room to rot and gather flies though potatoes sprout eyes in the kitchen and the bath overflows and floods the floor.
The whimsical night follows, her illusion goes terrible, in which men appear underneath her bedclothes and rape her violently, hitherto in no word, the merely inexorable ticking of her alarm clock sound to be heard. The chaos and the grip on reality are shacked and is crumbled reaching out to grab her and turning to porridge beneath her hands. As Carol’s mind disintegrates, the sordid, run down, claustrophobic apartment becomes the domicile of gothic horror, the castle, the dungeon, the lonely shack in the woods and all in her mind. The first up is poor wretched Colin, breaks into her apartment when she refuses to acknowledge his adoration and he apologizes for his indiscretion. Denying his words, she shadows and slays Colin violently to death with a candlestick, dumps the body in the over flowing tub and nails the broken door shut.
Well along, the haughty landlord (Patrick Wymark) breaks in, looking for the late rent payment and in his mind about sexual favour with Carol in exchange to the rent. As abrupt and unexpected, Carol pays him and sits on the sofa. The Landlord remarks on the decaying state of the apartment, attempts to get close to her by bringing a glass of water as he ogles Carol in her nightgown. Thus in that exact moment she slips away, but his lust hooked on, the inevitable happens when she slashes him to death with a straight razor.
Helen and Michael arrive, thus discover the dead bodies in the apartment. Michael runs for help. Helen, distraught and flustered finds Carol hiding under the bed in a catatonic state. The neighbours hash out and surround with inquisitive, concerned and shocked. Michael carries Carol out, staring creepily at her wide-open eye, face and body. The film in anyway do not explain Carol’s obsessions (However the movie vaguely suggests that her father might well had sexually abused her as a child and some other critics note Carol’s frequent usage of items associated to her sister’s boyfriend Michael, though provokes her at the beginning of the film). But wherever it comes from, seems to have been with her for a while. The film ends as it begins, with a huge blurry close up, this time of the face of the child Carol in an old family photograph that is secluded, vacant, with a look of abhorrence in the void of time. The audience are left to stare back and remain mesmerised through the whole film.
Sweepingly, Polanski exposes haunting impression of the pain and pathos of the mentally deranged, that is captured fittingly well by Gilbert Taylor. The camera shows beautifully as a conduit to Carol’s emotions. Some of the shots are mind blowing and the horrors depicted are seat-edgy and believe me, these never are the pleasant place to be. Even to date, this film is praised for the techniques and themes used by the director Polanski, with those slow camera movements and pauses, a soundtrack carefully composed of distracting, repetitive noises (clocks ticking, bells ringing, hearts thumping) and, once Carol barricades herself in the cramped, dark apartment, explicitly expressionistic effects (cracks suddenly ripping through walls, rough hands reaching out of the darkness to grope her) to depict a plausible schizophrenic event and just as said, Repulsion remains as great cinematic experience
- Directed by Roman Polanski
- Produced by Gene Gutowski
- Screenplay by David Stone
- Story by Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach
- Casting: Catherine Deneuve; Yvonne Furneaux; Ian Hendry & John Fraser
- Music by Chico Hamilton
- Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
- Edited by Alastair McIntyre
- Distributed by Compton Films & Royal Films International
- Release dates: 11 June 1965 (UK)
- Run time of 105 minutes
- Country: UK
- Language: English