REPULSION - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

UK, 1965

Director: Roman Polanski

Production: Compton-Tekli; black and white; running time: 104 minutes; length: 9,360 feet. Released June 1965.

Producer: Gene Gutowski; associate producers: Robert Sterne, Sam Wayneberg; screenplay: Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach; assistant director: Ted Sturgis; photography: Gilbert Taylor; editor: Alistair McIntyre; sound: Stephen Dalby; art director: Seamus Flannery; music: Chico Hamilton.

Cast: Catherine Deneuve ( Carol ); Yvonne Furneaux ( Helen ); John Fraser ( Colin ); Ian Hendry ( Michael ); Patrick Wymark ( The Landlord ); Valerie Taylor ( Mme Denise ); Helen Fraser ( Bridget ); Renee Houston ( Miss Balch ); James Villiers ( John ); Hugh Futcher ( Reggie ); Mike Pratt ( Workman ); Monica Merlin ( Mrs. Rendlesham ); Imogen Graham ( Manicurist ).



Polanski, Roman, and Gerard Brach, Repulsion , in Three Films by Roman Polanski , London, 1975.


Butler, Ivan, The Cinema of Roman Polanski , New York, 1970.

Kane, Pascal, Roman Polanski , Paris, 1970.

Belmans, Jacques, Roman Polanski , Paris, 1971.

Durgnat, Raymond, Sexual Alienation in the Cinema , London, 1974.

Bisplinghoff, Gretchen, and Virginia Wexman, Roman Polanski: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1979.

Kiernan, Thomas, The Roman Polanski Story , New York, 1980.

Leaming, Barbara, Polanski: The Filmmaker as Voyeur: A Biography , New York, 1981; as Polanski: His Life and Films , London, 1982.

Tuska, Jon, editor, Close-up: The Contemporary Director , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1981.

Fisher, Jens Malte, Filmwissenschaft—Filmgeschichte: Studien zu Welles, Hitchcock, Polanski, Pasolini, and Max Steiner , Tübingen, 1983.

Polanski, Roman, Roman , London, 1984.

Dokumentation: Polanski und Skolimowski; Das Absurde im Film , Zurich, 1985.

Wexman, Virginia Wright, Roman Polanski , Boston, 1985.

Jacobsen, Wolfgang, and others, Roman Polanski , Munich, 1986.


Avron, Dominique, Roman Polanski , Paris, 1987.

Bruno, Edoardo, Roman Polanski , Rome, 1993.

Parker, John, Polanski , London, 1993.

StachĂłwna, Grazyna, Roman Pola'nski I jego filmy , Warsaw, 1994.

Cappabianca, Alessandro, Roman Polanski , Recco, 1997.


Brach, Gerard, in Cinéma (Paris), February 1965.

Dyer, Peter John, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1965.

Variety (New York), 16 June 1965.

Milne, Tom, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1965.

Barr, Charles, and Peter von Bagh, in Movie (London), Autumn 1965.

Delahaye, Michael, and J. A. Fieschi, "Paysage d'un cerveau: Entretien avec Roman Polanski," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1966.

Caen, Michel, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1966.

Johnson, Albert, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1966.

McArthur, Colin, "Polanski," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1968–69.

Ross, T. J., "Roman Polanski, Repulsion , and the New Mythology," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Winter 1968–69.

Reisner, Joel, and Bruce Kane, "An Interview with Roman Polanski," in Cinema (Los Angeles), no. 2, 1969.

Ciment, Michel, and others "Entretien avec Roman Polanski," in Positif (Paris), February 1969.

Leach, J., "Notes on Polanski's Cinema of Cruelty," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 2, no. 1, 1978.

Amiel, M., and others, "L'Univers de Roman Polanski," in Cinéma (Paris), February 1980.

Film Reader (Evanston, Illinois), no. 5, 1982.

Corfman, S., "Polanski's Repulsion and the Subject of Self," in Spectator (Los Angeles), vol. 10, no. 1, 1989.

Lucas, Tim, in Video Watchdog (Cincinnati), no. 33, 1996.

Taubin, A., "Sex on the Brain," in Village Voice (New York), vol. 42, 23 September 1997.

Biodrowski, S., "Reissues, Revivals, and Restorations: Repulsion and Dracula ," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 29, no. 11, 1998.

* * *

In the early 1960s Roman Polanski's producer, seeking financial backing for what was to be that director's second feature film and his first in the English language, approached Hammer Films. That the company promptly turned down the project which would eventually become Polanski's third film, Cul de Sac , is perhaps not surprising: the robust Manichaeism of Hammer horror at this time stands in stark contrast to Polanski's distinctly surrealist sensibility.

Repulsion , the film that Polanski made before Cul de Sac , bears only a tangential relationship to the country in which it was produced. While the director very convincingly captures the London of the mid-1960s, he also works to universalise this setting, so that it becomes as much a representation of an existential situation as it is a specific geographical location. The tension between the particular and the general thereby generated is the source of much of the film's uncanny qualities. It also enables Polanski to pursue a theme which runs through several of his films (for example, The Tenant and Frantic ), and that is the reactions of an outsider or foreigner to an alienating, Kafkaesque urban landscape. Repulsion 's restless camera becomes in this sense a correlative of Polanski's and his central character Carol's unease in their surroundings.

The film is also one of cinema's finest and most uncompromising treatments of madness. Through a brilliant manipulation of space, time, and sound, Polanski vividly recreates a schizophrenic experience. The essential physicality of his approach is most apparent in his visual treatment of Carol's flat. As Carol gradually loses her tentative hold on reality, walls are torn asunder, and what initially were small rooms become cavernous, menacing lairs. Significantly, psychoanalysts and other mental health specialists (staple ingredients in most films dealing with madness) are absent throughout. The film offers us an experience of madness rather than an intellectual—and inevitably distancing and reassuring—understanding of that condition.

However, it does not follow from this that no explanation is offered for what happens to Carol. Avoiding the case-history approach which could so easily have become reductive and facile, Polanski instead subtly shades her condition into the world through which she moves. Madness is seen to lie not in an individual's psychology but as emerging from an apparently immutable social reality. In the world of Repulsion the possibilities of meaningful communication between the sexes are limited by the stereotypical roles assigned to male and female: the morgue-like beauty parlour where Carol works stands rigorously opposed to the pub where Colin, her prospective boyfriend, meets his male friends and where the conversation seems rooted in depressingly humourless dirty jokes. The film's most disturbing moment in this respect is the one where a hopelessly insane Carol applies heavy make-up to her face and lies in bed smiling, a mocking representation of the woman as object around which both the beauty parlour and the dirty jokes are structured.

Within this context both Carol and Colin are presented sympathetically. There is a delicate poignancy in their early scenes together as they make awkward and increasingly desperate conversation. Their sensitivity renders them uncomfortable in their respective roles but they are incapable of finding other ways of behaving and relating to each other. It appears that only the crass insensitivity embodied in Michael, the lover of Carol's sister, enables people to survive (although even this character is allowed to exhibit tenderness at the film's conclusion when he gently carries Carol away from the flat).

Polanski seems throughout the film to be suggesting that Carol's actions merely represent an understandable reaction to a world that, when viewed clearly, is unbearable. It is the bleakest of outlooks, and it is a credit both to Polanski's enormous technical skill and his humanism that he succeeds so completely in drawing his audience into it.

—Peter Hutchings

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