Filmsite Movie 

Repulsion (1965)
Pages: (1) (2)

Repulsion (1965) Repulsion (1965) is co-writer/director Roman Polanski's disturbing, tense, frightening horror-psychological thriller. It was one of Roman Polanski's best films - it was his second feature film (after Knife in the Water (1962)) and his first English language film. The macabre tale, that became increasingly unpleasant to watch, was about the mental deterioration into schizophrenia of beautiful, timid, vulnerable and paranoid young 18 year-old blonde manicurist Carol Ledoux (21 year-old Catherine Deneuve) from Belgium, who lived in a claustrophic London apartment with her older sister.

There were hints that she suffered for many years with a fear of men, was sexually-repressed and repulsed by sex, and had been a childhood victim of sexual abuse. Her blank stares and dreamy countenance from her tormented youth were reflected in an old family photography, possibly pointing toward sexual violations from her father or another older male figure in her childhood room.

The film featured crisp black and white cinematography (with moody flourishes of fim noir), plus at times a dissonant jazzy score. However, there was only limited dialogue throughout, especially for its main star Catherine Deneuve. Although most of the film was slow-building and subtle in its suspense in the catatonic mind of the fragile and doe-eyed heroine, there were three scenes with sudden shocks: (1) the razor slashing of the Landlord, (2) the two rape hallucinations, and (3) the jump-scare of the wardrobe-closet mirror. There were also subtle clues that the "virginal" protagonist was suffering from the onset of schizophrenia - biting her lower lip, scratching at her body at odd moments, and often swatting away at invisible insects.

The film's main posters displayed multiple views of the shattered, downwardly-spiraling, and cracked psyche of a young girl who feared sex and was pictured above an opened straight-edged razor - an instrument of lethal revenge used against pestering and assaultive men in her life. Another image illustrated the imprint of two hands on her body - reaching out to grope and touch her body parts. Ultimately, the emotionless and blank-faced protagonist was led to commit two brutal and shocking murders of ultra-oppressive males who seriously intruded into her living quarters and into her life.

It was the first film of his so-called "Apartment Trilogy", coming before Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976). All three films portrayed maddening urban living in claustrophobic apartments in different cities.

The film borrowed many elements from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960, UK), such as sexual voyeurism, and subtle auditory hints, and resembled David Lynch's later Eraserhead (1977) and Abel Ferrara's exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981). It derived much of its suspense and dread from the use of nerve-wracking and disorienting aural effects - loud everyday sounds (such as dripping water, the ticking of an alarm clock, a ringing telephone and doorbell, keys plunking musical scales on a piano, footsteps on the floor above or outside a bedroom door, etc.).

Often called one of the first English "New Wave" films, the film was controversial in both its graphic depictions of rape, but also featured the first orgasm 'heard' on the British screen.

Its taglines were:

  • This is not a dream. THIS IS REALITY!
  • The nightmare world of a virgin's dreams becomes the screen's shocking reality!!
  • A delicate yet powerful balance of violence and sensuality in an unawakened girl.
Plot Synopsis

Opening Credits and Introduction of a Disturbed Salon Manicurist Carol:

The opening image during the title credits was an external closeup of an eyeball, with the film's title REPULSION rolling over, rotating and wrapping around the eyeball from right to left to the sounds of a two-note drumbeat. The cast names and credits moved upwards and appeared at odd angles over the eyeball. However, the final credit: "Directed by Roman Polanski" moved in a straight horizontal line (from right to left) and cut across the eyeball - similar to Luis Bunuel's 'eyeball-cutting' scene with a razor in Un Chien Andalou (1929). [Note: A razor also figured prominently in the film, and in the film's poster.]

There was a slow pull-back from the female's dead-eyed staring right eye (paralleled at film's end with a zoom-into her eye for a more subjective view). The suggestion was that much of the film would be seen from the protagonist's POV.

Abruptly, this was followed by a close-up of the symbolic cracking of an aging female's facial mask. She looked like a corpse lying immobile on a table, wrapped like a mummy in towels - in a sense, the patron was sacrificing herself on an altar to be made to be more attractive to men.

[Note: There were other cracking images throughout the film, including the image of the cracking of the sidewalk pavement - and of course, the protagonist's mentally-deranged, disintegrating and schizophrenic mind.]

As the camera pulled back, it revealed the unmoving female was an older patron named Mrs. Rendlesham (Monica Merlin) who was being serviced in an upper-class, all-female beauty salon/spa. Her extended right hand was being treated to a manicure by a semi-inert, shy 18 year-old London manicurist Carol Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve) seated next to her, with her head bowed.

[Note: Carol's last name "..doux" translated means soft or sweet.]

With the first line of the film, the elderly woman asked: "Have you fallen asleep?" Carol blankly responded from her dreamy state: "Oh, I'm sorry." The woman then conjectured: "I think you must be in love or something."

Carol's co-worker Bridget (Helen Fraser) entered, complaining about the imperious boss Madame Denise (Valerie Taylor) - and the entire work environment inside the salon: "Why does the old bitch pick on me? That's the second time this week. I nearly told her what she could do with the job." Mrs. Rendlesham stated that she wanted to change from her usual nail-polish: "I feel like a change. Give me Revlon's Fire & Ice." Madame Denise suggested to Carol that she could use an alternative choice: "She'll never know the difference."

[Note: Later in the film, Madame Denise revealed her real feelings and sharp distaste for her pampered female clients: "I'd better go see what that old bitch wants."]

Carol's Persistent Suitor Colin:

During her lunch break as Carol was walking on the busy streets of London by herself, she was spotted by a persistent, constantly-harrassing British suitor named Colin (John Fraser) who was inside a saloon-bar. Often seen staring blankly, she didn't hear or see him. With her delicate and ethereal childlike beauty, it would be expected that she would be viewed with predatory male gazes, and therefore, she was always protectively wary and distant. One T-shirted workman (Maxwell Craig) propositioned her: "Hello, darlin'. How about the other then?"

Colin pursued her to a restaurant where inside, the detached, shy, and reserved Carol was staring at her plate of unappetizing fish and chips. He gestured with hand-signals from outside the window (non-verbally) if he could join her. He then suggested that they go for a quick meal at Wheeler's instead, but she claimed that she would be too late returning back to work. Colin then pressed for a date that evening, but she declined: "I'm busy tonight." She claimed she would be having dinner (of rabbit) with her older sister. Colin had presumably been rejected before by Carol: "You really make me feel wanted." He proposed meeting her at a pub (The Hoop and Toy) the next night at 7 pm for a date, but she was mostly unattentive and unresponsive.

Carol's Older Sister Helen and Her Boyfriend Michael:

Carol bit her nails during the elevator ride up to the floor of a claustrophobic apartment (# 15) in Kensington that she shared with her older, sexually-liberated and self-absorbed sister Helen Ledoux (Yvonne Furneaux).

[Note: Much of the film took place mostly in this single location. The apartment would soon become symbolic of Carol's own body - penetrated first (and cracked open) by Michael's intrusions, and then violated by two demanding males: Colin and the Landlord.]

On her floor, she was greeted by a female neighbor who was proceeding to take her dog for a walk. Carol's bedroom was the first room on the left upon entry. From the rear window looking into the back courtyard, she had a distant view of another female-only locale - a convent nunnery play-yard area, where nuns threw a ball to each other in a circle, but there was an annoying, often-clanging bell.

She proceeded to the shared bathroom down the hall to wash off her legs and feet in the sink. Helen was having an affair with her married boyfriend - a sleazy and boorish salesman named Michael (Ian Hendry). Carol was very dependent upon her sister, but was continually uneasy and disapproving of Helen's promiscuous relationship with Michael, including the intrusive evidence of his male presence into her perceived personal space: his toothbrush and straight-edged razor had been left in a glass on the bathroom shelf above the sink.

In the kitchen, Helen was preparing dinner for them. She was peeling a bunch of potatoes and then removed a hideously-skinned rabbit on a plate from the refrigerator - resembling a human fetus. Carol was obviously concerned that her sister (with her boyfriend) were soon leaving for a fortnight's vacation, and then complained: "Does he have to leave his things in the bathroom?...Why does he put his toothbrush in my glass?" Carol also noticed a crack in the ceiling: "We must get this crack mended."

Michael arrived at the door a few hours before he was expected for dinner. He was impatient about waiting for the cooked rabbit dinner and suggested going out for dinner instead: "We'll go out tonight, I'll take you out." She agreed but noted: "You never give me a chance to show you what a good cook I am." Carol appeared to be sulking with the abrupt change in dinner plans that didn't include her. As they departed, Michael mentioned to Helen how her younger "strung-up" sister seemed to detest him:

I don't think Cinderella likes me....The little sister....She's a bit strung-up, isn't she?...She should see a doctor.

Carol was left alone in the apartment - she viewed her distorted reflection in a shiny tea kettle, listened to the dog-walking neighbor's return and then watched her through the front door's peephole. At around 10:45 pm, as Carol awaited her sister's return, the camera tracked over to an old family photograph. A young and unsettlling Carol was in the center of the family grouping of adults, looking aloof in the background toward a male figure on her left (presumably her father). Her older sister was on the left of the photo, seated on the grass with her head resting on her left arm in the lap of another adult male.

The Enigmatic Ledoux Family Photograph

That evening, Carol laid awake in her bedroom (with shadows cast onto the ceiling) as she listened to Helen's and Michael's laughter and conversation in the adjoining bedroom. Carol felt extreme discomfort and frustration while listening to loud orgasmic love-making through the wall. The night sequence lasted over a minute, at around the 18 minute mark in the film, as she became more and more discomforted, frustrated and aggravated - tossing and turning in bed as she listened to the increasingly-excited, pleasurable moans of her sister nearby as she climaxed.

The Next Day - Problems with Men:

Upon awakening the next morning, Carol barged into the bathroom where Michael was in the middle of grooming with shaving cream covering his face. Afterwards, he rushed off with no time for breakfast or to give Helen a ride. Carol was concerned that Michael was becoming a permanent fixture in the apartment, shattering the refuge and protection she sought with her sister:

Carol: Is he going to stay here every night?
Helen: I really don't think that it's any concern of yours!
Carol: He's married, though.
Helen: Darling! It's my affair! We all have to lead our own lives in the end, you know.

Helen was not interested in Carol's opinion. Their conversation was interrupted by a loud-ringing telephone call from the apartment's landlord insistently demanding the overdue-rent payment for the month. Helen promised that Carol would deliver the rent the next day, since she would be going away on a holiday. Afterwards, Helen complained: "Just the sound of his voice makes my flesh creep. Money, money, money, that's all he every thinks about!"

Carol was left with the dirty dishes in the kitchen. She drank some coffee and nibbled on some sugar cubes.

[Note: For the remainder of the film, Carol never seemed to eat anything substantial. She had no appetite - both for food and for sex.]

As she dressed for work, a child practicing scales on a piano interrupted the silence. Carol brushed her hair with one of Helen's hairbrushes in her bedroom, while noticing the wrinkled sheets where her sister had made love to Michael.

Carol's distressed co-worker friend Bridget at the beauty salon, a seemingly-safe sanctuary filled with females, was found sobbing in the downstairs workers' area. She was terribly upset about how she had her heart broken by her male suitor, and threatened to commit suicide by cutting her throat. She expressed contempt for all males:

Just bloody men. Promise you the earth and then - Oh, I could cut my throat....I thought this one was different....Oh, he was a pig! Forget it...I'll tell you the sordid details later. Oh, why are they so filthy?

Carol sat nearby detached and unemotional. She maintained her blank, glassy-eyed, and staring expression as she walked through the city after work, without much of a response to her external surroundings. However, she paused to look with fascination at a major crack in the sidewalk.

In the Hoop and Toy pub, two white collar crass barflies Reggie (Hugh Futcher) and John (James Villiers) who were friends of Colin were discussing a vicious fist fight. John had witnessed two women fighting over a man like female wrestlers in Hamburg:

John: One a big leg with bloody big charlies tried to claw the other girl's face. Got her fist right down her throat...
Reggie: Lesbians?
John: No, no. They both fancied the same bloke. I should have his luck! And then they started in with their teeth, rolling about on the floor, it was like a madhouse. And I was the only mug who tried to prevent them. I ought to have my head examined.
Reggie: I wouldn't have minded seeing it.
John: Feel free, anytime. I ended up with my coat torn, my shirt covered with blood. If you like that sort of thing, I'll introduce you to my cousin. She's a black belt.

Seated next to them, Colin overheard them. He was asked about his dating success with "Little Miss Muffett." He answered about how he was stood up by his date who instead had dinner with her sister. Colin went outside, saw Carol sitting on a bench in front of the sidewalk crack, and reproached her:

Are you playing hard to get?...I've been waiting over an hour. We made a date, remember? We're having supper tonight!

Carol explained that she had completely forgotten - clearly signaling that she wasn't interested in him. They knocked heads together when reaching simultaneously for Carol's dropped purse. Colin felt that she should have responsibly told him of her plans, and then he asked her: "Are you all right? You look, I don't know, you look sort of, sort of funny?" When she declined dinner because it was too late, he asked if she was fired, and then offered to take her home in his small convertible sports car. As they drove along, they passed by a trio of musical buskers playing spoons on the sidewalk (one of whom was director Polanski!).

Parked in front of her apartment, Colin leaned over to kiss Carol, but pulled back. He lit up a cigarette, and after a few moments tried again and successfully kissed Carol. She looked like a deer in the headlights as she pushed him away, wordlessly fled from the car (narrowly avoiding being hit by a passing vehicle), and ran into the building. During the elevator ride, she savagely wiped at her mouth and then vigorously brushed her teeth in her bathroom. She again noticed Michael's toothbrush and razor in a glass and dumped them into a small trash can.

Meanwhile, Carol's sister Helen was in the living room watching a boxing match on television. She went to Carol's room to comfort her: "What is it? Don't you feel well? Oh, I know you don't want me to go away, but..." She was interrupted by a phone call, but the caller was silent.

Again that evening, Carol experienced the same unpleasurable sounds of them having sex, adding to her distress. And then Helen (draped to hide her nakedness) entered Carol's room to accuse her of passive-aggressive behavior against Michael: "Why did you throw Michael's things away? Why'd you do it?...It's got absolutely nothing to do with you! You silly little fool!"

The Day of Helen's and Michael's Departure for Two Weeks:

Shortly later, Helen wakened Carol to tell her that she and Michael were about to leave for a fortnight (two week) vacation to Italy. She reminded her to pay the rent to the Landlord, and tried to encourage her: "Don't look so sad. The time will pass very quickly." Michael urged them to leave: "Look, are you coming, or aren't you?!" and gave Carol a final instruction: "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Carol's insanity and withdrawn nature intensified after Helen and Michael left.

At work, Carol listened as Miss Balch (Renee Houston) angrily complained about men:

There's only one way to deal with men, that's treat them as if you don't give a damn about them!...There's only one thing they want, and I'll never know why they make such a fuss about it, but they do. And the more you make them beg for it, the happier they are!...They're all same, just like children. They want to be spanked and then given sweets.

During their conversation, Carol's co-worker Bridget updated Miss Balch on improvements in her own current dating situation: "He rang me up this morning....He was practically on his knees." Carol was sitting motionless in a corner, "dreaming" according to Bridget, and not feeling well. Carol was referred to her supervisor Madame Denise, who noticed how Carol was listless and unproductive, and biting her nails, and she was sent home.

Next Page