RepulsionDirector: Roman Polanski, Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser
The first English-language film of director Roman Polanski is a psychological thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and his own later film Rosemary's Baby (1968). Catherine Deneuve stars as Carol Ledoux, a Belgian manicurist living with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux), in a London flat. Simultaneously attracted and repulsed by sex, Carol is a virgin who finds her sister's relationship with a married man, Michael (Ian Hendry), extremely disturbing. When her sister and Michael go on holiday, Carol begins to disintegrate mentally, hallucinating bizarre encounters, being forced into taking a sabbatical from her job and ultimately committing a pair of murders in her deranged state.
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Cast & Crew
|Catherine Deneuve||Carol Ledoux|
|Yvonne Furneaux||Helen Ledoux|
|Renee Houston||Miss Balch|
|Valerie Taylor||Mme. Denise|
|Monica Merlin||Mrs. Rendlesham|
|Roman Polanski||Spoons Player|
|Seamus Flannery||Art Director|
|Chico Hamilton||Score Composer,Musical Direction/Supervision|
|Sam Waynberg||Associate Producer|
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Roman Polanski's first film in the West is, in my opinion, his best to date. When "Repulsion" was released it was considered by many--including young women who related to the sexually-repressed Carol (Catherine Deneuve) and her dangerous fantasies--to be more frightening than "Psycho". Today, it seems more unnerving than terrifying--although viewers still jump when they see the fantasy man's reflection in the mirror. Yet it remains fascinating as an exotic psychological thriller an enigmatic portrait of a woman who sinks into madness and an early look into the macabre mind of Polanski. Deneuve is convincing as the lonely, unformed young woman who is drifting into insanity, whose mind is deteriorating while the food around her rots. She gets to laugh and smile only once in the film. At other times her Carol is withdrawn, frightened, guilty (her violent nightmares reflect that she wants to be punished for her sexual desires). She just pulls into herself, to where she can't be reached. It may all be very spooky, but Carol doesn't represent evil. Polanski treats her extremely sympathetically. Interestingly, even male viewers like me identify with Deneuve rather than with her male victims, whereas while watching "Psycho", everyone identifies with the psychotic's victims. Carol's hallucinations/nightmares are full of erotic images--it's a very sexy film--but Polanski doesn't want us to become aroused when she is raped and ravaged by her imagined male intruders. Significantly, we are disturbed by the attacks because we know Carol is suffering without achieving any kind of sexual satisfaction or liberation. We realize that she can't cope with the sexual confusion. Most viewers and critics were annoyed because they believed Polanski should have explained the reasons for Carol's breakdown. Well he does. I'm certainly not going to give anything away but, as with the director's later films "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown", anyone who leaves his seat, even for an instant, risks missing a new turn in the twisting story. The mad have always fascinated artists. Painters have tried to depict their mystery through their physiognomy, the greatest dramatists and novelists have been challenged by the subject, and filmmakers have been attracted more frequently to the picturesque visions and melodramatic actions of the insane. There have been films which handled the relationship of society and mental illness in greater depth, but very few images of madness stay as vibrant in the memory as "Repulsion". [filmfactsman]
As a schizophrenic in recovery, I believe I can attest to the legitimacy of this movie: that it is as accurate a portrayal as one can find on screen of this terrifying illness. I rank it with Catcher in the Rye, Tell Tale Heart, The Raven (and most other stuff by Poe), Jacob's Ladder, The Ugly, and Pink Floyd as all too perfect a capturing of the disease. What sets Repulsion apart is that it is stripped of the romantic qualities that can distract a lot of people. You are left strictly with the horror. No existential ideas are infused. It isn't a theme around which a larger story revolves. The plot is not a typical building up of character to a climax and then a falling action. Instead, you have what might well be more like a documentary (albeit a brief one). Carol encounters men who confirm her worst fears, and many people with any mental illness often get involved with the kind of person they absolutely do not need. (Which makes you wonder if folks such as myself bring out the dark side in people who pass for "normal.") While she is not capable of forming relationships, she is more sensitive to her need for people than her fragmented mind can handle. What I think is best of all that most may not notice is how a small, accidental incident can send the mind reeling against all efforts to stop it. We may not know Carol's exact reaction when she sees the customer ranting about men. Perhaps she thinks the woman is speaking directly to her, or perhaps not. Either way, the fact the words and voice tone speak so immediately to the fear she harbors each minute of the day, it might as well have been directed at Carol. At one point, Carol looks at a reflection of herself in the flower vase, and I feel that implicit in this is that she is drawn by her fragmentation deeper into that self that is broken apart (though that is a working hypothesis of mine I cannot prove). Many of the shots of walls and objects are not insignificant -as I can attest to focusing and reflecting on some of the exact same things that most folks may find totally irrelevant to the film. While most viewers may want to know the cause of Carol's illness, it is quasi-hinted at, and that is all you need to know. I have my own feelings about what gave her this affliction, but that is not really the main importance. All that really matters is the moment she is in, and how to get out of it. As I watch this, it isn't too much of a horror flick as it might be for others. If anyone wants to know the most important thing to pay attention to, it is the silence, especially during her hallucinations. The average person thinks that seeing something jump out at you is the scary part, when it is not. Rather, it is the power that it has over you that is the true torment. It is much like something in you has evaporated and gone silent, and you don't feel that absence until the hallucination happens. I manage to learn about myself with each viewing, and that is why I feel I can say this is truly a masterpiece -where what is depicted as fiction is all too factual.
I saw this film as a teenager when it was released and was so shocked by it that I remembered it all my life. It is unquestionably one of Polanski's best because of it's unique and disturbing subject, a beautiful but neurotic young woman's decent into madness. She kills several men in the course of the film. Men sicken her for reasons that aren't obvious but must clearly be due to her childhood. I own the movie now and still find most of its imagery more horrific and certainly more convincing as a psychological thriller than modern stuff I see. Catherine Denueve's portrayal of Carol is fantastic and honest. Deneuve was considered to be one of the most beautiful women of the '60's and it's worth seeing just for that. I've always considered Polanski a genius, one of the top filmmakers of all time.
Disturbing & violent. Enjoy.
How a child molester like Polanski could have such an empathetic understanding of a woman's psychosexual terror of men is beyond me, but this remains the most genuinely frightening movie that I have ever seen.
Great movie. Catherine Denueve was great.