• One Scene: Repulsion

    By Ti West

    I have always been astonished at the ease with which Polanski could create the feeling of paranoia. There is no specific way to effectively represent paranoia on-screen. It is a very private and quiet emotion. It is not something that is usually shared with an audience. It is not achieved with startling or shocking moments. It is something that requires several subtle layers of detail and restraint. Repulsion may be the most perfect example. The Tenant and Rosemary’s Baby (the others in Polanski’s “apartment trilogy”) both effectively re-create the tone (as do his other films), but what makes Repulsion stand out the most for me is that there seems to be no specific reason for Carol’s unraveling. It’s clear she is suffering some sort of mental problem, but there is no explanation or evidence for why. In fact, it is implied that she has just always been this way. The ambiguity is crippling for an audience and creates a bond between Carol’s skewed perspective and the experience of watching the film.

    I think the scene that stands out most is the first time Carol is left alone by her sister. The shot starts with her in the kitchen. The room is dark, and she sits silently slumped over, until she becomes transfixed by her distorted reflection in the teapot. The way in which she inquisitively stares and moves her face around is our first glimpse at how unstable and childish her mind may be. Up until this point, she seemed like just a shy young girl living in London. We hardly imagined her to be anything more than awkward . . .

    She is soon interrupted by the sound of a neighbor in the hallway; she goes to the front door to investigate, and Polanski presents what she sees to us through a lifelike peephole POV. There is nothing sinister at work here. The woman is simply taking her dog inside, yet an unsettling paranoia begins. Carol aimlessly drifts through the apartment as the incessant ticking of the clock makes the otherwise silent atmosphere practically unbearable. The antique figurines stare silently, and the nuns at the convent next door disappear inside. The tension builds until Carol arrives at the record player. The implication that the quietness of the scene will end is almost cause for elation for the audience. But the moment never arrives. Carol isn’t interested in music.

    The final bit of the scene is the most unsettling. The camera slowly pushes in on an idyllic family photo from Carol’s youth. Her parents and sister have all posed for the photo, while a young Carol stands in the background, staring blankly off into the distance. Whatever this feeling she has in the apartment . . . the one we are now sharing with her . . . has always been there . . . and it isn’t going away.

    This scene is masterful in its simplicity. The rest of the film is a psychological downward spiral. But not often do we get a scene that maps out this kind of descent so distinctly. Subtlety in filmmaking is a rarity. Few directors have the confidence to present it. Polanski is the master.

    One Scene: Repulsion One Scene: Repulsion

    Ti West is the writer and director of 2009’s The House of the Devil, among other critically acclaimed films. His latest, The Innkeepers, will be released in early 2012.

17 comments

  • By Chris McGee
    November 01, 2011
    01:43 AM

    Perfect
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  • By Paul van Emmerik
    November 01, 2011
    09:47 AM

    Agreed.
    Reply
  • By David Hollingsworth
    November 03, 2011
    06:57 PM

    A superb analysis of a terrifying masterpiece.
    Reply
  • By Glenn
    November 04, 2011
    12:39 AM

    LOL what other critically acclaimed films has Ti West been a part of? Cabin Fever 2? You don't have to suck up to everybody that writes a piece for you, CC
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    • By Jackson
      November 04, 2011
      11:35 AM

      He was taken off of Cabin Fever 2.
  • By Peter
    November 04, 2011
    10:07 AM

    The Inkeepers is doing great in festival circles right now, I had a chance to see it last week and it is excellent. So there you go, Glenn.
    Reply
  • By John
    November 05, 2011
    11:42 AM

    I love these "one scenes." More please! And more often!
    Reply
  • By Egghardt Freid
    November 06, 2011
    09:55 PM

    Well put, Ti. I'm not surprised that Ti West is able to talk about this scene so sharply. I finally watched The House of the Devil over Halloween, and there is a great restraint to that film which really makes it unsettling and scary and contributes greatly to the build of tension. He's clearly got a lot of respect for, and taken some good notes from, the very talented Polanski, among others I'm sure. I'm excited to see The Innkeepers. Respect.
    Reply
  • By Jeff Orgill
    November 07, 2011
    08:29 PM

    Well observed Ti. Makes me want to watch it again along with the others from Polanski's apartment trilogy. Looking forward to seeing THE INNKEEPERS too!
    Reply
  • By dasboot4211
    November 08, 2011
    02:43 PM

    This is just on frightening film that I could just not look a way for a second and I think most of it wasn't just Polanski's direction but Catherine Deneuve's performance as well. Deneuve really reaches down into the well that leads to hell and comes up with a beautiful, frightening performance.
    Reply
  • By Adam
    November 09, 2011
    11:00 AM

    Hey Glenn do everyone a favor and watch Trigger Man and The House of The Devil before you comment.
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    • By Goragnak
      November 10, 2011
      12:58 PM

      The House of the Devil? Really?? Not a good film.
    • By Jon Peters
      January 14, 2012
      11:15 AM

      House of the Devil in the coming years will become what I've been saying since I saw it in 2009: masterpiece.
  • By Jeff Martins
    November 10, 2011
    02:57 PM

    Pretty terrific actually. Amazing slow-burn filmmaking, elegantly shot and constructed throughout. Very impressive.
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  • By Mel Brown
    August 01, 2012
    01:51 PM

    Ti I purchased this film when Criterion first released it. I actually saw it in a movie theatre in the '60s and it was so powerful it has stayed with me all this time. My memory over these years has undoubtedly become 'suspect'. However there are two scenes buried in my memory bank which require challenging. Wasn't there a scene in this film where Ms. Deneuve was seen crawling on the floor munching on the cooked rabbit? This graphic scene demonstrated that she had gone well over the edge and led me (the audience) to believe that her actions were going to become more & more erratic. A second missing scene was the original ending. Carol, back to her demure public persona, was being led into the police van for her trip to the asylum. Although a simple scene, it was paramount for me. In the Criterion version, the lecherous Michael (Ian Hendry) had picked up the traumatized Carol and was cuddling her in his arms. He had been desperately hoping the relationship would turn in this direction throughout the film, and it now appeared he was going to be successful. With the original ending (as I remember it), this thought did not have a chance to take hold. I will certainly appreciate it if you, or any Criterion member, can display my doubts. It was, and still is, one of my favourite films.
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    • By Mel Brown
      August 01, 2012
      01:55 PM

      For 'display' my doubts, read 'dispell' my doubts.
  • By The Doktor
    March 15, 2014
    04:10 PM

    It's amazing to me how everyone misses the fact that the man in the photograph - most likely her father or the father role figure - that Carol is looking repulsively at was the rapist in her nightmares in the apartment. Childhood sexual abuse renders adults who at best do not appear able to follow the 'normal' or typical path that others follow since their whole concept of personal boundaries and sexuality have been completely skewed outside of that normal range. And in more severe cases it's not hard to see how you could end up with a 'Carol'.
    Reply

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