This is the kind of movie I have always loved. It’s so quiet, it takes a while for the tension to build, and the story takes a little deciphering. And I guess I’ve never really thought about it before but Roman Polanski might be one of my favorite directors. His characters and stories are so fantastically interesting. I really hope Elizabeth and I try to watch through his filmography soon. I have also been wanting to see this movie because some good friends of mine used to have the poster hung up in their house. I always thought it looked so interesting and I have a lot of great memories attached to it. I’m not sure why I didn’t watch it back then, especially since I did watch The Tenant back then. But getting back, I always thought, based off the Repulsion poster, that the movie was about a bunch of girls killing guys for family stuff?…I’m not sure why I thought that but it’s nothing like that and if you have never seen it, it’s so fucking worth it!
There’s not a ton of plot to Repulsion, but not in a bad, Tree of Life kind of way. It’s basically about Carol (Catherine Deneuve) being left alone in the apartment she shares with her sister and going from nearly-insane to without-a-doubt-insane. It’s scary, but what makes it so scary is how realistic it is. I’m not going to pretend to know what it’s like to be schizophrenic or have any kind of really severe psychotic disorder. But I do know what it’s like to be scared of things that can’t hurt you and what it’s like to be so insanely depressed that you can’t leave your apartment and that’s really all I need to know to understand how true to life this is.
Carol is cripplingly shy and disgusted by men. But she’s also gorgeous, so she’s in constant conflict with how she looks and who she really is. There is one man in particular, Colin (John Fraser), who borderline stalks Carol despite not knowing her long at all and despite her constant apathy toward him. He tells her he’s miserable without her, which is both absurd and pathetic given their relationship (or lack thereof). But would Carol have to put in so much effort to get rid of Colin if she were ugly? Would Colin have pursued her so hard? Would he have been so blind to her apathy and rejection of him? Of course not, and that’s a really interesting point I think Polanski made by casting Deneuve. She’s just a gorgeous woman, of course she loves men! Of course she’s flirtatious and wants to get married. Just look at her! The fact that everyone, including her sister, seems to completely miss that there’s something wrong with Carol I feel is almost 100% due to the way she looks. We really don’t get any back story to Carol (which I love) but I like to imagine that she’s really always been this way and everyone’s always been oblivious to her because she’s always been pretty.
But the reason I love that we don’t have a back story to Carol is because it honestly doesn’t really matter. She has nightmares of a man coming and raping her, of the walls coming alive and grabbing her, but we don’t know what’s at the core of all this sexual imagery. Was she molested as a child? Raped? Walked in on her parents having sex? We don’t know and because of that we can’t justify anything. Maybe Carol was raped or maybe Carol was just born with a mental disorder. It doesn’t change anything happening in the story of this movie, so we don’t need to know. I love that Polanski could have chosen to explain it away, to make Carol a lifelong victim of men (if she had been raped), but he chose not to because that’s not the focus. The focus is what’s happening right now, because Carol is going crazy right now.
I read somewhere that every woman needs to see Repulsion. I’m not sure I agree with that. Obviously there are all kinds of cases you can make for Repulsion having a feminine edge and being about men and women, but what’s so great is that while this particular story is specific to those themes, it doesn’t have to be. Carol could easily be afraid of something else, or someone else (children? old women?), and the results would still be the same. The feminism of Repulsion shouldn’t be disregarded, but it’s also not the end-all be-all for it, either.
I don’t think every woman needs to see Repulsion, I think every person should see Repulsion.