Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Space Oddities: Repulsion

Disregarding the normal ideal of cinema providing a pleasant escapist experience, Roman Polanski's psychological horror film 'Repulsion' (1965) aims to achieve the opposite effect. In this film the viewer is thrown into the perspective of a young and beautiful French girl, Carol (Catherine Deneuve), who slowly descends into paranoid madness. It is obvious from the start that there was something odd about the main character, in the first few minutes she exhibited nervous compulsive behavior such as biting her nails. It quickly becomes clear that this anxious behavior stems from intimate contact with men.

Fig. 1 'Repulsion' (1965)
This film is particularly difficult to watch for a variety of reasons. The subject matter and violence shown throughout the film is highly graphic and unsettling. As Carol's sanity deteriorates, she experiences hallucinations including shadows moving around in her apartment, walls cracking, and men attacking her at night. It is these nightmare rape scenes that are unnerving as the viewer is forced to watch the repeated assault on Carol. She even attempts to prepare for it at one point when she applies lipstick, only to quickly realize that no matter what she does it will always be a horrible experience. Polanski doesn't allow any distraction from these graphic assaults. Using "a perfect specimen of a very special cinema-sound technique" (Crowther, 1965), he removes all sound from the distressing attack scenes. This forces the viewer to watch in silence, making the experience disturbing, consuming and surreal as it certainly would for any rape victim.

The pacing of this film is purposely drawn out and slow, sometimes even feeling tedious with seemingly unnecessary scenes. However, realistically Carol's mental deterioration would not happen drastically or quickly as some films would have the public believe. Mental illness creeps up on the individual suffering, often the person afflicted doesn't even realize they are sick. This slow pacing accurately describes how a real human gradually gives in to mental illnesses such as OCD, PTSD, anxiety and many other illnesses. Part of what makes this film so horrific and impactful is that, "rather than making a mad person scary, the film terrifies by giving an audience a sense of what it's like to lose sanity," (Newman, 2007). The film combines real threats such as assault, rape, and mental illness with a realistic situation to provide the audience with a surreal yet accurate experience of insanity.

Fig. 2 Carol's Hallucination
It remains unclear what actually happened to Carol to make her antagonize all men. It is implied that she was possibly abused as a child which could why she fears sex, experiences rape fantasies, and shows signs of OCD, PTSD, and anxiety. During the 1960's  not much was known about mental illness and was often misunderstood and ignored. This would explain why her symptoms went unnoticed as her fear of sex "developed into a neurotic fascination and horror of dust and dirt of all kinds, a condition that escalates into agoraphobia and paranoid episodes" (Bradshaw, 2013) despite numerous individuals pointing out that she didn't look well.

The final scene shows a family photo shrouded in shadow, the only light shining on Carol and the man in the photo (most likely her father) which possibly hints at her abuser. Although this film presents very surreal imagery such as an ever-changing apartment, groping arms protruding from fleshy walls, phantom rapists, and giant cracks in the wall it provides a shockingly truthful insight to how realistic  traumatic experiences can affect the mind. 'Repulsion' is a true horror film that forces the viewer to experience the unpleasant experience of a woman's tragic mental decay from her point of view. The terrifying nature of this film lies in the idea that the real monsters are around us and that no one is safe from mental illness and insanity.

Fig. 3 Carol's Family Photo

Bradshaw, P. (2013) Repulsion - Review At: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jan/03/repulsion-review Accessed on: 17/11/2015
Crowther, B (1965) Repulsion At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF1739E471BC4C53DFB667838E679EDE Accessed on: 17/11/2015
Newman, K. (2007) Repulsion At: http://www.empireonline.com/movies/repulsion/review/ Accessed on: 17/11/2015

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Repulsion (1965) [Poster] At: https://www.movieposter.com/posters/archive/main/61/MPW-30800 Accessed on: 17/11/2015
Figure 2. Carol's Hallucination (1965) [Film Still] At: http://projectdeadpost.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Repulsion-2.jpg Accessed on: 17/11/2015
Figure 3. Carol's Family Photo (1965) [Film Still] At: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-JuMtk25i_l8/UbAdkkzrQDI/AAAAAAAAftc/TAbw1vVrwpM/s1600/Repulsion+4.jpg Accessed on: 17/11/2015