Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Repulsion (1965)

As my regular readers know, I am an old movie geek. I pepper my conversation with lines from old movies. I inspect old movies like old maps, old gems, old still-photographs...I wait for great moments, great scenes and great facial expressions. I know I have written about these hundreds of times on this blog.

I also look for mistakes; I find boom-mikes in the margins of the frame, I find hippies in movies supposedly set in the 40s (The Godfather has a hippie in one frame, if you are fast enough to catch him). Movies are like songs and records to me, I watch them over and over. I know them by heart, I know the climax and the resolution. I wait for the Jack Rabbit Slim's commercial to play on the car radio as Bruce Willis is running by in PULP FICTION. I wait to hear Luke Skywalker say, "Prisoner transfer from cell block 1138." (I love THX 1138 with a passion.) I eat that stuff up.

And I've watched Roman Polanski's movies over and over, too.

Years ago, I decided that REPULSION could be the subject of a feminist dissertation. The story of a woman's sexual disintegration and pathological fear of men (driving her to kill them), is simply a stunning, amazing film. The scene in which the incredibly beautiful Catherine Deneuve picks up her roommate's boyfriend's t-shirt off the bathroom floor, recognizes it as... a MAN'S shirt... and involuntarily gags... that is a great moment and a great scene, one of those I wait for. (There is also a moment of fun inside-trivia, wherein Deneuve receives a postcard from the roommate and her boyfriend in Italy, announcing that they are enjoying "La Dolce Vita"--the title of the Fellini film Deneuve's former partner, Marcello Mastroianni, made in 1960.)

The scene in which Deneuve thinks she sees a man behind her in the mirror is utterly terrifying, and has been used by every horror-movie director in the world... but as far as I know, Polanski was the first. When the church bells wake her up and she hallucinates a man in her bed, who overpowers her? Jesus H. Christ, people. And then, her famous nightmare, the hands descending from the walls. The maze of hands, groping, grabbing, seeking to hold onto her, to harm her.

Deneuve is being hounded, to say the least. MEN will not leave her alone. And don't lots of us feel that way, at certain times in our lives? That we are being forever hounded by men?

Which females in our culture are most likely to feel this way? Well, I know that when I did, I was about 13 or 14 and just becoming accustomed to being one of the hunted.

Put another way, I was the age of Roman Polanski's victim.

The last scene shows us a photograph of Deneuve as a scary-looking child, as if to say, the kid's always been strange, but even in this photo we see her jarring, uncanny beauty. By choosing a woman of such world-renowned beauty, Polanski is telling us that she deserves to feel hunted, because she IS hunted. Men throughout the movie, poor saps, want to party with her. She has been called one of the most beautiful women in the world. In a postmodern sense, we know who she is, she is Catherine Deneuve; and this pushes the film into a dreamlike realm. One can't help but think that she HAS been stalked and followed all of her life; of course she has. She is a famous beautiful woman. She has good reason to be afraid. Men all over the world have wanted her. Imagine, we are thinking, how that feels?

Doesn't feel good.

Deneuve stands in for all of us; her coveted beauty is suddenly frightening, a notable weakness. We realize there is no escape for her, because she is too beautiful. The "princess" fantasy is that every man will worship us, and Polanski flips this adolescent daydream on its head: Yes, every man will want you. See what it's done to poor Catherine? Her sanity is gone, gone, gone.

Now that Polanski has been busted in Switzerland, and both Hollywood and Blogdonia are ablaze with defenses and counter-defenses, let me make it clear that I believe Polanski is scum. Yes, a great artist, but total and complete scum. And this movie is how I know. Yes, right here in this stunning WORK OF ART, I see what a horrible man he is.

I see a rapist.

I've always seen him, the reflection in the movie-mirror.

It's like Woody Allen's MANHATTAN, wherein Woody is unabashedly involved with high-school girl Mariel Hemingway: How can you miss it? Certain film-directors let us know, in ways large and small, exactly who they are. And Roman Polanski projects his consciousness onto Deneuve in REPULSION. Polanski is the man who has created this character, after all. And it is his incessant interest and desire that has caused Catherine to flip out, to imagine men are everywhere. Polanski's arms are the arms that emerge from the walls; Polanski is the man who appears when the church bells ring.

Roman Polanski is the man Deneuve is afraid of.


Please read these threads for further Polanski discussion: Polanski Defend-a-Thon Part 1 and Part 2, and Getting Over It (by Lauren at Feministe, a must-read).

EDITED TO ADD: Her reasons are not yours (Shakesville)


Repulsion trailer (may trigger, etc)