Repulsion


Repulsion is one of the three English films Roman Polanski made in the UK, the other two of them were Cul-De-Sac and Fearless Vampire Killers. Some have rumored that Polanski only did Repulsion to finance his next film Cul-De-Sac, but ones who have seen Repulsion know that it's not even close to the truth. Roman Polanski succeed to bring unconventional issues people weren't yet familiar with on the screen in Repulsion. The film shocked its audiences and was edited, banned and rated-18 in many countries. It follows what Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) started - modernizing the horror genre. Actually on the surface Repulsion resembles Psycho, but it of course doesn't have some of the typical elements of American cinema, that Psycho has but then Repulsion also doesn't have the same complexity and Hitchcock's masterful work that Psycho has. Still Repulsion stands out as a very important film in the history of horror and in the history of cinema. Repulsion dealt with themes that still were unfamiliar for the British cinema.


A young Belgian woman, Carol (Catherine Deneuve) lives with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) in London. Helen is dating with a man, whom Carol can't stand actually she couldn't care less about dating, men or sex. The breathtakingly beautiful Carol walks down the streets, awakening the desires of men; by trying to avoid and hide, she actually only reinforces the things she fears. When a man - Colin - tries to get to know Carol; her repulsion of men starts to take radical forms.


The fact what makes Repulsion so great is that it works brilliantly just as a psychological thriller. But it is so much more than that. If one looks at it just as a thriller, one will get entertained but might feel a bit confused at times. Since the story has its complexity, symbolism and sudden change of perspective and narrative.


Repulsion starts with a documentary introduction of Carol: we watch her as an outsider. We see what she does, how she acts and how other people act around her. Suddenly Polanski takes us out of this calm perspective and puts us in Carol's life full of paranoia and despair. We are in the world of a schizophrenic. This sudden change of perspective is brilliant and an important thing what makes this film work. We have the same reality Carol does: the house falling apart, the nightmares and the fantasies. As many of us know the house in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) symbolizes the human mind - the mind of Norman Bates. It's divided into three floors just like Freudian psychic apparatus: id, ego and superego. In Repulsion the symbolism and reflection between the apartment and Carol's mind is different but still very clear, perhaps even clearer than in Psycho. The house is a reflection of her mind; the walls of it are decaying and falling apart. Harassing hands come from the walls. The rabbit is rotting. These are very poetic elements, which add a great visual touch to Repulsion. After this horrifying sequence - or act two, we are released and once again change the perspective to an outsider. We are free to observe the situations from the outside just as the other people in the house. The film ends in a similar documentary feeling where it started from. We see a picture of Carol's family. We see Carol looking at her dad with a vacant stare. One could argue about the meaning of this, but to my mind it has always been pretty obvious that her father abused her. In result of which Carol had got a repulsion of men and sex.


One can watch Repulsion as a psychoanalytic survey of the human mind and schizophrenia. But it can also be seen as a description of virginity and about the fears of losing it. It builds on the basic biological facts that turn into something very complex. Carol walking down the streets, awakening sexual urges in men. The progression of Carol's alienation shows in her inability to do everyday chores, which is shown to us in poetic 'shock' pictures. To the place of doing ordinary things, Carol starts to lean on violent actions: her primitive fears have taken the control.


There are several ways to look at Repulsion and that's what makes it so great. It can be seen as a psychological thriller, a psychoanalytic or a sexual moral survey. It also studies the standards of our society; the fear of losing virginity, the repulsion of sex, sexual abuse, trauma, schizophrenia and despair are the main themes of the film. I had only once seen it before on TV. If I had to point out a flaw in this film, I'd say it's that it cannot be watched very many times. Well basically it can, since it works as a thrilling, entertaining picture but the depth and complexity of it is not enough for ten views. I felt like I didn't learn anything new on my second watch. But it's fine, not all films have to be like that this still is Roman Polanski's highest achievement - even that Rosemary's Baby is a brilliant classic. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen, seize it. The experience of seeing this in a theater, cannot even be compared with seeing it on a small television screen.