Repulsion, directed by Roman Polanski in 1965, was released around the time of sexual liberation for young woman in the swinging 60s. For many this was a joyous time of leaving repression behind, but what this film explores is the life of a woman stuck in the past. Both her own past, and the past society was waving goodbye to.
The film itself for the most part is directed and presented naturalistically- one of its most sinister vice’s being the use of sound, or rather, it’s lack off. The silence in the protagonists flat, when she is left alone by her sister, creates a new pernicious form of suspense. The pure nothingness of both the soundscape, and the shots of day-to-day items in the flat make the viewer worry as to what is provoking her to go so mad. The sounds that are used, the ticking, wall cracking, dripping of a faucet and jazz music as she walks down the street, all have a repetitive nature, which is almost Artaudian. Each has an air of sinister poignancy, leading you to question other aspects of the film by extension. The night-time scenes, in which she imagines graphic scenes of rape about men she has come across or seen on the street, are accompanied by a thought provoking ticking. In itself a normal sound, but the inappropriateness of it’s context leads the viewers to wonder about what else might be going on behind seemingly normal sounds and situations, both in the film and in reality.
The sound is not the only aspect of the film that appears to have hidden intent. The lack of emotion or remorse behind Carol (played by Catherine Deneuve) is also a worrying tell about the possibility of psychotic nature in seemingly lovable women. One review saying “Catherine Deneuve's glassy stare of anxiety dominates the movie” (Bradshaw, 2013)- Carol cannot express her emotions in a normal way forcing her to unleash them in a harmful manner.
Further metaphors reveal what is hidden if deeper in Carol’s psyche, her unavoidable humanistic desire for sex. For instance towards the end of the film, Carol tragically prepares herself for her night-time rapists by applying red lipstick- an age old metaphor for sexual desire. Carol also appears to “play housewife”- attempting to iron the vest top of the man she loathes the most, her sisters boyfriend. A feeble attempt to preserve the male energy in the flat. Carol begins to imagine arms grabbing her through the walls, surely implying a truth behind her nightmares. (fig 1) The Huffington Post aptly puts - “Carol's dementia creates perplexing hallucinations: sexual acts with a greasy man whom she simultaneously loathes and lusts after; greedy hands poking through walls and kneading her soft flesh; and the moving and cracking of walls. Left alone, she is able to act out what she is so afraid of: the dark sludge of desire.”
The reasoning behind her madness is the biggest point of discussion to come out of the film. It is clear Carol has a distinct issue letting go of her childhood, keeping hold of a child’s toy and looking longingly at the children’s playground. She even responds “yes” out of her window when the nuns ask the children “Have you had a nice day?”. Many people think this, along with an unnatural fear of human contact, may stem from sexual abuse as a child. The most logical explanation for this being from her father, especially as in the family photo referred to at numerous times in the film (fig 2), young Carol appears to be looking worriedly at who we can only assume is her father.
Bradshaw, P (2013) The Guardian At: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jan/03/repulsion-review
Morgan, K (2009) Huffington Post At:
(fig 1) Still from Repulsion At: http://armchairc.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-top-10-roman-polanski-films.html
(fig 2) Still from Repulsion At: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2044-one-scene-repulsion