Filling the Gaps: Repulsion (1965)

Well, for my second Filling the Gaps post, I chose a film which is probably even creepier than the first one. Roman Polanski’s Repulsion tells the story of Carole (Catherine Deneuve) and her gradual descent into madness. It’s a pretty small-scale story, with most of the plot taking place in the apartment that Carole shares with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux), but Polanski works masterfully within the confines of the location. While the film initially made me think of French new-wave cinema, it rapidly evolves into something frightening and deeply unsettling, and it’s not likely to be something I’ll forget any time soon. 

There’s never any explicit explanation for Carole’s madness, but the implication is that it stems from sexual repression, possibly due to some form of childhood abuse. Polanski establishes Carole from the very beginning as pure and virginal in several ways, such as her apparent compulsive behaviour regarding cleanliness. Interestingly, Repulsion feels at times like a companion piece to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, with both directors using black and white film for thematic reasons. Where Hitchcock changed Marion Crane’s underwear from white at the beginning to black following her crime, Polanski contrasts Carole and Helen through hair colour and clothing. Helen, with her darker hair and wardrobe, is sexually promiscuous, and is involved with a married man, but Carole’s purity is again highlighted by her blonde hair, pale skin, and lighter coloured clothing. 

When Helen and her lover depart for a few days on vacation, Repulsion slips into a surreal nightmare. The world around Carole begins to disintegrate, and the cracks that begin to appear all over the walls mirror the fracturing of her mind. She begins to hear and see noises around the apartment as she lays in bed, and hallucinations of rape plague her repeatedly. The fear and disgust she has concerning sexual contact, coupled with her already compulsive behaviour, destroy what fragile grip on reality she has, and ultimately lead her to shocking violence when confronted by two men who show amorous interest in her. The deeper into insanity she falls, the more Polanski distorts the perspective and framing of his shots, building terrific suspense and dread until the conclusion, closing with a slow zoom into a photograph which suggests some form of explanation for the chaos we’ve just seen. He doesn’t give up all the answers, and is maybe a little heavy-handed with some of his metaphors, but by and large the film is an excellent example of psychological horror and suspense.

After this film and The Wicker Man I think for the next Filling the Gaps entry I’m going to try and go a lttle more light-hearted, maybe with some screwball comedy. I’ve got more time on my hands now, so I’ll try to do at least one of these posts each week, along with my reviews of new stuff.

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