Sunday, October 9, 2011


By s. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(105 min, 1965)
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Roman Polanski (original screenplay), Gérard Brach (original screenplay)
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry and John Fraser

Fear. Solitude. Madness.

A Belgian girl, Carol (Catherine Deneuve), works as a manicurist at a London beauty salon. While having lunch, a good looking young man, Colin, spots her and makes a date for another evening. She shares a flat with her sister Helen. Her sister's married lover, Michael takes Helen abroad for a holiday. Left alone in their flat, Carol's moments of catalepsy and hallucination increase and deepen into madness

“Repulsion” is a fascinating portrait of growing insanity – the movie centers around one character, repeats certain situations and uses a lot of symbols, which are easy to decipher but at the same time they remain very clever and build disturbing and eerie climate of the painful isolation.

Carol is incredibly beautiful, shy and fragile girl who lives with her sister Helen. Her sister knows that something is not right with Carol – she genuinely worries about her when she's going away, but she is not concerned enough to see the signs of her sister's madness or to get her psychiatric help. Michael, her boyfriend, points out that Carol should see the doctor, but Helen quickly dismisses his suggestion, almost worried that someone noticed there is something wrong with her younger sister. Perhaps if Helen wasn't so busy with her life and paid more attention to Carol, the tragedy would never happened. But can anyone blame her? She was just moving on with her life, after all she lived with Carol, kept her company, was the person Carol talked to the most.

Carol works in a beauty salon, she's very silent and does her job, so at first nobody notices her issues. It is in one particular scene that we see how much Carol really needed to talk to somebody, to have a normal conversation and a bit of attention – it is a scene where she and her coworker laugh about Charlie Chaplin's movie. Perhaps if somebody has pushed Carol to go out, meet with people, make friends, her condition would be better. Instead, it's the petrifying loneliness that eventually drove her crazy.

The girl doesn't seem to have problems interacting with women – she misses her sister, she comforts her colleague, she says hello to the lady neighbor. But the men repulse Carol – it's fear and awkwardness mixed together that makes Carol frozen when she comes close to men – she is barely able to say anything to Colin, who has a crush on her, she fears going next to the construction because a worker there wanted to pick her up. By the time the landlord appears in the apartment Carol doesn't seem to even care – she responds to his questions but she seems to be fading away into catatonic state.

Obviously there must be a reason why Carol is scared of men and not women. There seem to be two theories about the reason for her state – abuse or mental illness. First one makes sense, because Carol is scared of men enough to actually kill them when they try to touch her and because of her recurring hallucinations about rapist and men hands coming out of the wall to grab her. But the second theory can be based on the chilling, final frame of the film – Carol's empty stare into horizon when she was younger. She is not looking at anyone in particular, she just stars blankly in space. That would suggest she was always troubled. However, maybe she just associates closeness to sex – she hears her sister and her boyfriend one night having an intercourse. Her hallucinations only happen at night, around the time the bells behind her window stop ringing. Maybe, somewhere deep inside, Carol wants to be with someone, but she is so frightened and disturbed she doesn't know what to do. But on the other hand it may be something else - because of something terrible that happened to her – rape or abuse – she is so frightened that when she is in empty apartment she is reliving it. So it is either a psychological trauma or fear of being close to someone. Maybe both. But the result is one – inability to open up to others.

The movie does great job at portraying the deterioration of Carol's mind using two devices – the cracks she sees on the ground and on the walls of her apartment and in the form of rotting food. For some reason Carol doesn't clean up potatoes and rabbit - she just leaves them there, as if she was so scared of changing anything, she couldn't bring herself to move anything. I also found the information that rabbit is the symbol of fertility and sexuality. Maybe that is the reason Carol cuts off its head and carries it with her in her purse. She is scared of sexuality, of being close with a man. So she decapitates the symbol of it, but at the same time refuses to part with it. She is both scared and at the same time – she can't let go. As she can't let go of her terrible fear.

As she spends more and more time in the apartment and refuses to go out, Carol becomes more and more paranoid. She finally kills Colin, at the time of it she doesn't seem to know what she's doing. But after few moments she realizes and puts the body in the bathtub. When she kills the landlord she is not even scared by what she did. She stays in silence, isolation, staring at the cracking walls and furniture, slowly stops functioning and falls into catatonia.

The movie's ending when Helen and Michael discover what happened in the apartment is bittersweet – Carol may finally get the help that she so desperately needs, but on the other hand her stare in the photograph suggests that her illness is so deeply rooted there might be no chance for rescuing her.

The movie is one of the best depictions of madness I've seen – it's also very frightening – the sounds of ticking clock and amazing cinematography build truly scaring mood. Catherine Deneuve who plays Carol is barely recognizable here, but I couldn't imagine anyone else playing her part – she seems so fragile, scared and loveable that it's truly crashing to see her character going through all those things. Because in the end, it's the lack of human contact, attention and proper care and love that pushed Carol over the edge. And the worst part is that there is no certainty who should be blamed for it– maybe her family never bothered to notice her, maybe her sister was too busy with her life. But throughout the movie we saw people reach out to her. But the problem is that five minutes or one conversation is too little to rescue someone from complete, crippling solitude.



  1. Great post Sati,I have always found this portrayal amazing becuase she doesn't talk a lot in the film, but her face tells all of her story and every ounce of emotion she is experiencing.

    1. Oh absolutey, Deneuve was just heartbreaking in this movie.

  2. I just thought you'd like to know I've wrote a review on Repulsion, you should check it out.

  3. I personally see the final scene of the film as an implication that Carol was either molested or sexually abused as a child. To me, the close-up of the photograph indicated that Carol was staring at the man who, incidentally, is the only other figure in the photograph without his face obscured. It could definitely be argued that she was mentally ill even as a child and was just staring into space, but the subject of her hallucinations and their extremity seem to indicate otherwise. It's an amazing film, very surreal and very subjective. I just watched it tonight and I like it a lot.

    1. Glad to read you liked it! You explanation is one of the many that make sense, I love the last shot because it leaves things so open to interpretation.

      Whatever happened to Carol or whatever illness she had it is chilling to see that she was like this for years, a ticking bomb, really.