Thursday, 12 December 2013

Film Review - Repulsion (1965)

Fig.1 Repulsion

Repulsion (1965) is a horror film about a young woman named Carol, who has a fear of all things intimate and sexual with members of the opposite sex, this is later suggested to be brought on by the demons of  her past. Carol lives with her sister and when her sister goes on vacation with her lover Carol is left alone and slowly starts hallucinating and begins to go psychologically mad. This is a film that not only has great cinematography, with the use of camera angles and bizarre environments but also a film about sexual expression, namely the lack of when it comes to Carol. However its main basis for content is sex, which is significant because it was a film that was made in the swinging sixties, a time when the world started to rejoice over the acceptance of sexual expression. As critic Alan Bacchus stated in part of his review"...Represents a unique place in the filmography of Roman Polanski...but in the 1965 it plays as an antidote to the prevailing attitude of exuberant sexual freedom, a horror film of sorts for the swinging 60's." (Bacchus, 2009).

Repulsion doesn't hesitate to make full use of its iconic horror camera angles, the film starts off with an extreme close up of Carol's eye and slowly zooms out, shortly following with a camera angle that looks as if someone is following her down the street. Being as Carol is a beautiful woman she quickly gets attention from a male bystander on the street who she ignores. Naturally Carol is a socially awkward woman, she doesn't appear to have much of a personality and she continually displays traits that are often associated with those who are nervous or have anxiety issues, such as biting her nails and playing with her hair. From the audiences point of view at first, these habits may seem like confidence issues, which may be true but later on audiences learn that there are far more sinister forces behind her personality. 

Fig.2 Repulsion

Carol's obvious anxiety with things sexually related becomes more apparent in a scene where there is a couple having sex and Carol tries to blank out all of the sounds of the situation. What is strange is that Carol actually has a male suitor of her own but it is obvious that she doesn't show any interest in him, though she does try to conform and tries to kiss her suitor but hates it and runs off in a panic, Carol only actually seems comfortable and sociable around her sister and her female colleagues at work. Which leads to speculation that she may be a lesbian, one of the only times you see her smile and laugh in the film is when she is talking about a movie with one of her female work friends. Though things seem relatively harmless with Carol psychologically with her at first, when her sister leaves her on her own things get out of hand with Carol's mental stability.

When Carol's sister leaves it seems as if audiences have entered an entirely new atmosphere, audiences really start to see the world through Carol's eyes, and her scary hallucinations along with it. One of the first being her sexual nightmares, frequently throughout the film audiences see suggestions of Carol being raped while she sleeps, and it appears to be the same man every time, which leaves audiences to question who that man is that she is picturing raping her. However, the real famous horror cliché that is used consistently in horror films these days, mainly ghost ones, is when Carol looks in a mirror and at first everything is fine but as she closes the mirror a man appears behind her and of course rapes her, but not physically, Carol just hallucinates it, this is a perfect example of famous and effective cinematography shots. Smalley, a movie critic discussed this idea saying"Our first hint that we have entered a new world is when, along with her, we catch a glimpse of a man's figure in the mirror......Soon after, we are thrust into her (literal) dream and nightmares. And things grow increasingly worse from there, until the viewers struggle to tell whether what is happening to her is real or imaginary."(Smalley, 2011).

Fig.3 Repulsion Invisible Eyes

As Carol's mental health continues to deteriorate and get worse, so do her hallucinations, and in regard to what Smalley said, some parts of the film make the viewer wonder if what ever audiences just witnessed if it actually happened. One of the main aspects of the film that make audiences question this at first is the scenes where she is shown murdering men, who she feels sexually threatened by, even though the first man, her suitor, doesn't seem to make any advances onto Carol but we see her brutally murder him anyway. Another murder is when she murder's the landlord who comes for his overdue rent pay, though he does try to make sexual advances onto her. At first it is questioned whether she actually managed to commit these crimes or if it was all in her head as there are many other hallucinations in the film, however, it is later discovered when her sister returns that Carol did indeed murder the men. 

A memorable scene in Repulsion for its cinematography aspects, is a part of the film where Carol's hallucinations go wild and she visions arms coming out of the walls around her and grope her breasts and touch her, this is an obvious indication of how Carol feels about the world around her, and how all men seem to be after in her eyes. It is a scene that is very familiar with the scene in La Bete et la Belle with the arms holding candles coming out the walls, but in Repulsion the hands are a figure of her imagination and invade her personal space. In a similar time frame to this scene, shots of the wall and ground crackling around her, as if her world is crashing down with her personal fears. This cracking of the walls may also be seen as a representation of her personality, her mental wall is breaking down, as her illness gets more severe. One thing in the entire film that is interesting and bizarre is Carol's fascination with this dead lamb, that she was supposed to have for dinner, but instead decided to keep it rotting away in her sister's apartment. Lambs are a symbol of purity and innocence, something that Carol is considered, with her lack of sexual experiences with men, however the lamb is also rotting, this may signify Carol's pure and innocent mind rotting away throughout the film, just as the lamb rots away. 

Fig.4 Repulsion Wall Cracks
Fig.5 Repulsion Hands

Overall Repulsion is classic horror film, that contemporary horror films seem to have taken inspiration from with some of its clichés, like being followed and the man in the mirror. It has great cinematography in terms of its shots and its atmosphere, which ends on an thought provoking note, when it shows a family photo of Carol with her family and she is seen significantly staring at the male figure in the photo with great disgust, this may be an indiciation of why Carol is like she is, perhaps she was sexually abused as a child. As film critic Derek Winnert sums up "The Screenplay by Polanski and Gerard Brach is a model of intelligence, subtlety and the power of suggestion and's a polished, startling-looking film thanks to Gilbert Taylor's fine, imaginative cinematography." (Winnert, 2013). 

Bacchus, A [Online] At: (Accessed on 9.12.13)

Smalley, G [Online] At: (Accessed on 9.12.13)

Winnert, D [Online] At: (Accessed on 9.12.13)

List Of Illustrations:
Fig.1 Repulsion [Poster Art] At: (Accessed on 9.12.13)

Fig.2 Repulsion [Film Moment] At: (Accessed on 9.12.13)

Fig.3 Repulsion Invisible Eyes [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 9.12.13)

Fig.4 Repulsion Wall Cracks [Film Still] At: on 9.12.13)

Fig.5 Repulsion Hands [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 9.12.13)

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