Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Repulsion - Film Review

It seems as though Roman Polanski's 1965 film Repulsion was created to serve as an eye opener for a huge number of people as Polanski casts a vision on screen of his interpretation of what the inside of a mentally ill persons mind could look like. The film follows Carole (Catherine Deneuve) ,a woman who's life is slowly unfolding as she lethargically traipses through her day, moving between being pestered by men, working at a beauty salon and living with her sweet yet inconsiderate sister,  played by Yvonne furneaux. We see Carole begin to struggle with every day life and start to crack, much like her apartment, under the pressures of secretly harbouring a mental illness as she starts to miss work, find herself roaming aimlessly and struggling with the upkeep of her flat. Through the corse of this film Carol undergoes horrific events in the confines of her apartment, including carrying out two murders and being subjected three acts of sexual abuse, the latter being portrayed mentally rather physically.

Fig 1: Repulsion, Poster

Repulsion could almost be viewed in two manors, one from the obvious dimensions of the screen, or possibly with the mindset that Carole's apartment serves rather as a physical embodiment of her own mind. It could be plausible that Polanski uses physical events within the apartment as a way of showing an audience the horrors a mentally ill person can be put through in their own mind. Throughout the film a number of different symbols could further solidify this point, wether it be the walls beginning to crack, the bathroom flooding or the grotesque male hands piercing the jellotine like walls. This movie has been described as "a deeply disturbing, horribly convincing psychological thriller" (Bradshaw, 2013) which seems to be backed up thoroughly by the gripping events that surround Carole in the cocoon of mental dishevelment that is her apartment.

Amongst all these terrors, one thing seems to really hold a viewer, the rotting rabbit corpse. At the beginning of the film we see Furneaux's character preparing a rabbit to be cooked, however the meal is abandoned and the remains are left in the fridge once she goes on holiday. This item is present throughout the entirety of the film and is left on a table forgotten about, simply left to rot. This could possibly be interpreted as a way of giving Carol's mental illness a physical presence, the idea being that the rabbit body, slowing rotting and turning rather decrepit, is a way of showing the audience that Carole's mental state is also festering away and rotting in the same manner. With this is mind you begin to notice that other directions the plot takes are there to possibly back up this theory, as Carole's sister was, effectively going to deal with the rabbit, however went out instead, possibly showing how mental illness can go unnoticed by outsiders and begin to become an un-dealt with issue.

The film does carry a natural pace about it, and within some rights a very unique style. The whole film does feel very slow, especially when concerning scenes from within the apartment, however this feels extremely intentional as it could be a way of mirroring the internal damage of a mental illness. It could be said that the film possibly carries a slow plot because it wants to address the slow pace in which a mental illness can cause damage, affecting a person over time rather than an over night event. Tom Hutchinson observes that "Polanski takes us on a deeply disturbing, hallucinatory trip into Catherine Deneuve's mental breakdown" (Hutchinson, 2013), and by using the word breakdown pushes the idea that the film really depicts a larger space of time than first thought.

Fig 2: Repulsion, Screenshot

The root of Carol's issues are never officially addressed, but the audience is rather given ideas to make there own assumptions from throughout. It becomes blatantly obvious from the off set that Carol has issues with physical intimacy with men, we see her reject genuine affection from a love interest, played by john fraser, and become aggravated when she discovers her sisters boyfriends items in her bathroom space. A rather more subtle hint that the audience could pick up on is the fact that one is constantly referred back to an early family photograph of Carole's family, where she appears to stand out drastically amongst a seemingly nuclear family due to hair colour and her pose. It is also obvious from the photograph that Carol is housing some issues with her father, as she appears to be staring at him with malicious intent, which could possibly be the stem of her issues with men. Within this madness of male problems there is a scene in which Fraser's character attempts to help Carol, which ends in him being brutally murdered. This is definitely an event to be picked apart as it shows Carol rejecting outside help from another. This could maybe occur as a way of showing an audience member the ways in which a mentally ill person can perhaps become blind to help and feel that the majority of outside influences couldn't possibly want to assist them, but rather take advantage of their weakness.

Although Repulsion is littered with subtle hints and suggestions, there are some rather more blatant and graphic scenes that show Carol's issues and instability. There are three scenes which show her being sexually abused, all having no issues with making an audience member feel extremely uncomfortable. One of the most interesting devices used in these scenes is that Polanski has chosen to give the scene no vocal sounds even though we see Carol screaming, but instead a monotonous ticking noise. If a viewer is choosing to view these rapes as a more metaphorical breakdown rather than physical abuse, the ticking noise could embody the idea of a countdown to one of Carole's imminent episode's.

Within the film it is a running plot that Carol and her sister owe rent to their landlord, and due to this he comes to enquire about the money. This seems to be a pivotal event in Carol's timeline as we see her actively reject his physical attempts at seducing her. This scene shows definite similarities with the scene from Edward Scissorhands where the character of Joyce attempts to seduce Edward, which is equally as uncomfortable and occurs because of a dominant character becoming aware of a vulnerable state of an other. This scene of the landlord visiting is an easy way to recognise the embodiment of Carol's illness, as we see an outsider enter the manifestation of her condition, and choose to ignore her obvious need for help and rather prey on her vulnerability, which ends In Carol commiting a murder. In this scene we see the Landlord approach the rotting rabbit corpse and effectively dispose of it, which could be interpreted as the way in which mental illness can often be noticed by others and ignored, or rather become subject to a disposal or 'quick fix'.

Fig 3: Repulsion, Screenshot

Amongst the closing scenes of Repulsion we see Carol's sister return home with her boyfriend and discover her apartment in tatters, after all it has been host to a number of internally catastrophic events, including two murders. An interesting point to note is that once the damage is discovered by an outsider and her sister finds Carole lifeless on the floor, a huge number of the residents in the same building seem to become involved in the growing drama. This is without a doubt symbolising the way in which a number of mental health cases are gone un noticed or un addressed until it is effectively too late.

There is no doubt that Polanski's 1965 film repulsion is one to Intise and challenge an audience, as they are dragged though uncomfortable episodes and horrific scenes of abuse. The film has been described as "a peerless Freudian nightmare" (F. Croce, 2012) which beautifully sums up the captivating  breakdown cycles that the audience becomes captive to. Polanski does an incredible job here of creating an environment that mirrors the damaged state of a mentally ill person and houses events that many are blind to in every day life. Repulsion is simply a masterclass in symbolism, something that can really intensify a plot and intrigues an audience. Although not for all, Repulsion is definitely a movie for viewers wishing to pick apart a piece, rather than simply play the role of an audience member.


Bradshaw, Peter, 2013, Repulsion, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jan/03/repulsion-review Accessed on 17/11/15

F. Croce, Fernando, 2012, Movie of the day, http://www.cinepassion.org/MovieDay.html Accessed on 17/11/15

Hutchinson, Tom, 2013, Repulsion, http://www.radiotimes.com/film/mc4pz/repulsion Accessed on 17/11/15

Illustration list

Fig 1: Poster, Repulsion, http://www.brudirect.com/blog/index.php/item/248-in-review-repulsion-1965 Accessed on 17/11/15

Fig 2: Screenshot, Repulsion, http://storiesforghosts.com/a-look-back-at-repulsion-on-its-50th-anniversary/ Accessed on 17/11/15

Fig 3: Screenshot, Repulsion, https://onehundredimportantfilmschallenge.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/repulsion-1965/ Accessed on 17/11/15



  1. Hey Lewis,

    I really like your analysis of the rabbit corpse as a signifier of mental illness - and the various ways in which the character interact with it symbolising societal attitudes to it. Do me a favour though and just do another proof-read of this review; it's rather speckled with typos and a few grammatical gaffs and it would be good to weed them out so the intelligence of the review is allowed to shine unhampered.

  2. Hi Lewis,

    Excellent discussion around the symbolism of mental illness within the film :)

    Like Phil, I would urge you to proofread, as the spelling mistakes and lack of occasional capitals take away from the overall academic voice.
    Also, when you mention another film, such as 'Edward Scissorhands', you should italicise the film name and put the year of production after the name, in brackets.
    Other than that, a very enjoyable read :)