The Film: Repulsion (1965)
The Principles: Roman Polanski (Director). Catherine Deneuve. Yvonne Furneaux. Ian Hendry. John Fraser.
The Premise: Carol Ledoux (Deneuve) is a young woman who’s disconnected and anti-social. She has a job and interacts with clients and co-workers (and a dude who wants to date her), but she sleepwalks through every encounter and keeps everyone at a distance. The only person with whom she has any connection at all is her sister Helen (Furneaux). But when Helen goes on holiday with her boyfriend, Carol is left on her own.
Is It Good: It’s fantastic. Compelling and tragic and terrifying, Polanski puts together a tight, churning downward spiral of a movie that balances third-person observation with first-person perspective and sends the viewer through an expressionistic trip straight through the middle of a complete psychotic breakdown.
And maybe that’s a spoiler but maybe it isn’t – I don’t know. But the fact is that from the very beginning Polanski leaves you a little off kilter because everything about Carol is a little off kilter. At first it’s more of a certain, I don’t know, distractableness (that’s not a word). Carol’s a little distant, sure, but she’s pleasant and you can tell she’s trying her best to be a good employee and a good friend, even if she’s obviously 100 miles away. And there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but as the film goes on and we get put a little closer to Carol scene by scene, distractableness becomes anxiety and after her sister leaves and Carol is left completely to her own thoughts, anxiety gives way to psychosis and hallucination. And even as the raw inner workings of her own mind are laid out bare for us as an audience, it becomes that much clearer how impenetrable she really is, because Polanski never – EVER – lets us know who Carol Ledoux really is. There are glimpses and little hints and it’s not hard to come up with a workable theory (though it is hard to discuss those theories without spoiling everything), but the film leaves all the heavy lifting up to the audience.
And there’s a lot to be said for movies that can succeed at that – just drop the viewer into a situation that they watch play out but without any context or exposition. That’s not an easy thing to pull off and here it’s executed masterfully.
Is It Worth A Look: As far as streaming it goes it’s only available on Crackle, which is free and doesn’t require an account or a subscription because every video is littered with ads. They come roughly every ten minutes and they’re not even worked into natural seams in between scenes. And when I watched it on the Crackle app on XBL, every single ad was the exact same :15 Yoplait spot that broke up the black and white tension with Lisa Kudrow’s voice over a bright blue background.
And you should still go watch it (or just buy the Criterion Blu from CHUD).
Random Anecdotes: It’s the first of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy (that also included Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant). I haven’t seen The Tenant, but one can assume it shares a lot in common with this and Rosemary’s Baby and for a while after watching this I found myself wondering what his deal with apartments was. But there’s a shot here, somewhere around the second act, where Carol is looking through her peephole at her elderly neighbor, who’s walking with her beagle into their apartment and shut the door behind them. And then it kind of dawned on me – both of these women are in ridiculously close proximity to one another and neither of them really knows anything about the other one. And, well, that’s pretty much true of apartment living in general. That old lady and her beagle had no idea what was going on in the Ledoux’s place, chances are you have no idea what’s going on with the people in your building either. But you’re reeeally close to it, whatever it is. And that’s pretty creepy.
Cinematc Soulmates: Rosemary’s Baby. The Tenant. Carnival of Souls. Glengarry Glen Ross.