Roman Polanski Blogathon- Tenant and Repulsion
Among Polanski’s filmography, his more noted one is the “Apartment Trilogy”, of pyschological, horror, thrillers set against an apartment backdrop. We already had Mike Alatorre exploring Rosemary’s Baby, in a previous blog post. And here we have a twin contribution from Jean Melkovsy, who has dedicated an entire blog to Polanski, covering his movies and his biography.
Repulsion has been one of Polanski’s most European style movies, ever since he switched over to English cinema. A taut, disturbing psychological thriller, about a lonely, repressed girl, it remains one of the finest in that genre. Here Jean explains why he feels Repulsion disturbs and scares the audience even without any gory scenes as such. And also explains Polanski’s love for closed spaces. In his own words.
When Polanski was asked why he loved filming inside closed-up spaces, he said he wanted the viewers to feel the fourth wall right behind their backs. Fuck, yeah. The horror lurks in the trivial objects, just like insanity lurks within sanity. Carole slides into madness one step at a time, and the every-day objects become more and more menacing. It’s like the slippage described in Black House (King and Straub): everything still there, but not quite. The first part of the movie is all about this precarious ambiguity: there’s nothing wrong in not stepping on the cracks, in shunning a man on the street who makes passes at you, in not wanting to touch food that doesn’t look especially delicious, in forgetting a date, in expressing disgust at someone else’s toothbrush or anxiety over someone making loud love right behind the wall. Every little step, however, is a step in the right (=wrong) direction.
The Tenant which makes up the last part of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, of how an individual has it tough in a world ruled by communes. In this review Jean, looks at the plight of the titular tenant, and relates it to individuals facing harassment from organized groups be it the Nazis, the Soviets in Eastern Europe, or conservative Christian groups in the US. In Jean’s own words
That’s the most important message of The Tenant –the world doesn’t look like that because the tenant is paranoid, no, the man is driven crazy because the world is like that, even if it might look different than it does to other people as the tenant descends down the steps of his insanity. Sanity or insanity of the viewer only changes the appearance, not the substance. They could drive him insane, so they did it. And he lets them, that’s the thing, his last Gauloises-versus-Marlboro rebellion but a token gesture of a despaired man trying to keep the pathetic scraps of his dignity. He lets them, because they have the right to subject him to anything they like, and there will never be the “right” way to behave. Only escape is [sometimes] possible, but the tenant is far too fascinated with his own victimhood to undertake any decisive steps (except a brief visit to Stella, only to learn that things are the same everywhere), much like his female counterpart in Repulsion was much too fascinated with what the fabric of existence was doing to her.