Friday, 20 November 2015

"Repulsion" (1965) - A review

Fig 1.

Repulsion” (1965) by Roman Polanski recalls a tale of an affected young woman struggling with societal expectation; interactions which are normal by definition, but to Carol Ledoux, catastrophic. Rupturing her faculty with terse and often terrifying consequences that effectively “spill over” into her real world perception and pummel the viewer with a visual metaphor smorgasbord that weaves with clever ambiguity the story beyond what is seen.

Repulsion is remarkable in its time for putting women at the forefront amidst a backdrop of sexual revolution, providing in it’s microcosm, heightened yet honest examples of women living in the midst of an awakening, and in particular the strife and anger at the men that perpetuate a form of perceived oppression. Indeed, we are treated to scenes of Carol walking to and from work, keeping herself to herself, but falling foul of various male characters along the path. Through this, she never looks pained in any way, and no dialogue is spoken, we are subject to an impassioned drumming, quickly outstaying its welcome and hammering home the social assault Carol suffers. Elaine Macintyre somewhat cooley explains...“No wonder Carol, passive and listless as the dead rabbit, feels that women are nothing more than pieces of meat to be used and abused. And why her fractured mind revolts at the idea as, all the while, outside, a tolling bell calls nuns in a neighbouring convent to prayer, perhaps symbolising a straightforward purity that poor Carol, trapped in the disordered mess of her flat and her mind, can only yearn for.” (Macintyre, 2014) Much of the tension comes from these interactions with male characters, something which seems to send Carol closer to the edge, until she, in layman's terms, trips the hell out. Imagining cracks in the wall - the cracks in her psyche - broad hairy arms groping her in the hallway, rape hallucinations. It becomes so much for Carol that she cannot stand any interaction with men and rationalises that murder is the better option, something she instantly regrets.  Interestingly her sister is an example of a woman at ease with the way of things, and within the bubble of Repulsion, provides a captivating juxtaposition which causes background tension between the sisters, but also adds to the outer story the film only hints at.

Fig 2.
Its aim seemingly to arrest the viewer and truly make them accustomed to the neurosis of Carol - Something that is made worse when her sister goes on holiday, leaving her alone to her paranoia and claustrophobia - This is achieved via the mise en scene and the soundscape, each working together to truly ram home these bouts of lunacy. Within these bouts lies the magic of the film, as once again, mental degradation is reflected outwardly,  “Not only are the walls closing in, but they're crumbling, cracking, reaching out to grab her and turning to porridge beneath her hands(Macintyre, 2014) Indeed, Polanski keeps the film on a tight leash, the pacing being that of a meandre, shots that force the audience to stare at Carol when in deep catatonia, reinforcing the pervading sense of seclusion.

Fig 3. 

As with Black Narcissus, a film very much of the same ilk as Repulsion, the narrative reins are held firm until the third act, when the horses bolt. “Polanski manages to convey Carole’s descent into madness, in a way that invites audience inside her head even while giving viewers the creeps. Much of the imagery is memorably revolting (a rotting rabbit) or surreally disturbing (hands emerging from the walls to fondle the hallucinating woman).” (Biodrowsk, 2009) The surrealness of the art direction mantles a chilling presence, a palpable force that, in this instance, is meaningful in the way it is used to convey a certain state of mind.

Repulsion is not an easy film. It is not a film one would watch surrounded by family on a sunday evening, eager to chill out. But it is an important film, in both its examination of gender issues and its ease of conveyance of a state of mind which would otherwise be inaccessible were it not for it’s nightmarish art direction and powerful visual metaphor.  


Biodrowski, Steve. 'Repulsion (1965) – Horror Film Review'. Cinefantastiqueonline.com [online] Available at: http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2009/07/repulsion-1965-horror-film-review/ [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015]

Macintyre, Elaine. 'Cult Classic Film Review: Repulsion'. Elainemacintyre.net. [online] Available at: http://www.elainemacintyre.net/film_reviews/repulsion.php [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015]

Fig 1. Repulsion Poster. [image] Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/89/Repulsion_(1965_film_poster).jpg [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015].

Fig 2. Carol and the Landlord. [Image] Available at:
https://twentyfourframes.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/repulsion3.jpg [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015]

Fig 3. Carol and the arms. [Image] Available at:
http://deeperintomovies.net/journal/image14/repulsion6.jpg [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015]

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