By Jerome Reuter
Horror is not the monster; it’s the shadow. It’s not the murder; it’s the chase. It’s what you don’t see, and it’s what you don’t know. It’s the fear and terror of the unknown. That’s what real horror is. Roman Polanski’s 1965 film Repulsion embodies this, and much more. For the lack of a better term, this is a game changer. This is a narrative that forces you headlong into a nightmare world of isolation. It’s a place where we experience the complete breakdown of someone’s mental state. We’re forced to look inward, and examine parts of ourselves we’re not comfortable looking at.
If it’s one thing you can say about Roman Polanski, it’s that he’s very acquainted with the darker aspects of human nature. He’s a survivor of Nazi brutality, who witnessed unimaginable horrors. He had his wife and unborn child taken from him at the hands of the Manson family. Much of his works reflect a lifetime of tragedy, hardship, and despair. Repulsion is no exception to that.
Our narrative is focused on a young woman named Carol. She’s the quintessential stranger in a strange land. A foreigner living abroad, who seems lost in her surroundings. Polanski uses the camera to take us on a journey inside her mind. We become the voyeur to her complete mental breakdown, as the lines of fantasy and reality disappear. This is the greatest strength of the narrative. There is nothing more terrifying than losing the ability to distinguish what’s real from what’s fake. The viewing experience has an almost nightmare quality about it. It’s what happens when someone with a fragile mental state is pushed to far, and goes over the limits.
Our journey into madness is also a contrast of two worlds. We have someone trying to deal with the outside world, as well as the internal nightmare of isolation. When The Babadook was released, I could clearly see the influence from this film. This work is not without its influence as well; much of the scenes influenced by the images captured on celluloid by Jean Cocteau. From the nightmares of our protagonist, to the artistic expression of isolation, Polanski pays homage to one of the cinemas greatest auteurs.
This is one of Polanski’s greatest works. This will always stand the test of time, as a journey into madness, and an atmospheric look into the dark regions of the human mind.