Roman Polanski’s English-language debut is not only a film that goes down rather easily as one of his very best films, but also one of the greatest horror films to ever grace the screen. This is a film that alienates the senses much to the point that we end up getting caught so out of nowhere, from how Polanski cleverly builds up tension from first scene to last or how he also forms one of the most haunting of all descents into insanity to have been captured on film. Whatever words one chooses to throw at Repulsion, a certain term that comes to mind when I wish to talk about my first experience – traumatizing. Polanski’s first venture into horror is not only his finest within the sort, it is also one of his finest films overall and even to this day, it still remains shocking as ever.
Catherine Deneuve carries a desirable image in the role of Carol Ledoux, a Belgian blonde woman who works as a manicurist in London, together with her older sister. Through her days, her behavior is never normal as she suffers from androphobia, a fear of interacting with men – stinting any sense of proper communication with them. After her sister leaves to go to Italy, the lone Carol ends up going through a series of traumatic memories that grow all the more horrific as time passes by living by herself. At work, she becomes even more distracted and she only begins hallucinating all the more after she murders a man who was baffled by the way she acts.
Polanski establishes a peculiar image for Carol Ledoux, for he knows how to capture the way she feels to the point that this perspective is forced upon the viewer. Yet her natural appearance can already be enough to draw interest into herself because Catherine Deneuve can provide enough eye candy on the spot but many of her own traits leave behind something all the more alluring too. The moment in which we see she meets up with John Fraser’s Colin, we get an idea of her own distaste towards the male gender, as she is constantly asked by him to go out together with him, but it had always been there from the moment in which her sister had left for Italy together with Michael, her lover. This quality to her draws me to her character because it is not until the hallucinations kick in, where it became clear to me what Repulsion was about. It became clear that with Carol’s resentment towards males, she is shielding herself for something that she is not ready for – but soon the circumstances around her end up turning to the extremes after she begins hallucinating.
From the first moment in which Carol is left to live alone, her behavior changes much more drastically as she becomes all the more awkward of a figure. Without the comfort of her sister, a part of her has also disappeared in the sense that her own feeling of protection from the dangers of sexual interactivity has been lost, and now she is left alone in a state of freedom. Repulsionsoon becomes a film about the fear of this sexual freedom, and the paranoia about where this freedom can drive one person becomes crucial in portraying Carol’s own coming of age. Yet each of these hallucinations become all the more aggressive as the film progresses, a part of where Carol’s resentment towards males ends up becoming a critical factor. Soon enough, the aggressive nature of these fantasies equates to the feeling of being raped. This is where Repulsion turns all the more terrifying.
What makes Repulsion such a frightening experience is the fact that we are observing the film from Carol’s perspective, one which is so clearly terrified of the walls around her to the point that she is uninterested in breaching them. But what makes everything all the more frightening is the fact that we are never filled in on why Carol is like this. Yet even with the vague details about herself and her actions, there is a degree to which we can still feel sympathy for her descent into insanity. We are not observing the psychology of a serial killer, but instead a woman who is so fragile and unready for her breaking point to come out. Casting Catherine Deneuve in this role is already a choice so perfect not only because of the fear which we see inside of her performance, but also in how her physical appearance represents the very nature of Carol Ledoux so perfectly well. After keeping herself in such confinement, the consequences only fill up more and that is where Repulsion grows all the more effective.
No other horror film has ever come by in the same manner to which Repulsion can be experienced. Roman Polanski’s understanding of women’s fears is something so outstanding, and with Repulsion he turns these fears into something universal. The first of Roman Polanski’s so-called “Apartment Trilogy” is also the best of the bunch for a plethora of reasons. It contains Catherine Deneuve’s best performance, it still maintains what had made it such a terrifying experience back in its day, and it is also a tragic tale of sexual awakening, especially at a point when one is not ready. The claustrophobic Repulsion still remains one of Roman Polanski’s finest achievements as a filmmaker, and one of the greatest horror films ever made. If there were a single thought that came by whenever I thought of Carol’s rejection of society, that thought would be none other than a sympathetic, “I feel you, Carol.” And yet maybe, that is why Repulsion still frightens me as much as it does. A perfect film.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by Roman Polanski, Gérard Brach, David Stone
Produced by Gene Gutowski
Starring Catherine Deneuve
Release Year: 1965
Running Time: 105 minutes