Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rabbits and Razors

Just because your terror of the physical world leads to vivid hallucinations of vicious destruction of your home and invasion of your person doesn't mean all the men in your society don't want to rape you. One might say this is the moral of Roman Polanski's 1965 film Repulsion, an incredibly effective film about the inhospitality of sexuality from the perspective of a beautiful virgin played with fascinating subtlety and commitment by Catherine Deneuve.

She plays Carol, who lives alone in London with her older sister, Helen, a generally more mature and psychologically average individual. Carol works at a beauty salon, where her careful manicuring of customers neatly reflects her general intolerance of messy physical realities. The black and white film features high contrast with plenty of intense blooms of white light, a contrast that becomes more severe as the movie becomes more dreamlike.

It reflects the garish extremes that compose Carol's reality. The first portion of the film shows the clear influence of the French New Wave, Carol walking aimlessly on the streets with a disconnected jazz score reminiscent of Breathless or Vivre sa vie. But the stronger influence in the latter portion of the film, when Carol's left alone in the apartment for weeks while her sister is on vacation in Italy, shows more influence from Jean Cocteau, as the world around Carol attacks her with startling surreality. I won't spoil them for you, if you haven't seen the film, as shock is a big part of their effectiveness, but I will say the special effects in this movie are extraordinarily seamless and ingenious.

This is a horror movie, so does the concept of the guilty protagonist hold for it? We could say that Carol is being punished for the crime of being both beautiful and shy--not actually a crime to anyone who's not a thoughtless brute or misogynist, but this unfortunately does describe the men in Carol's life.

Colin, a handsome young man, is maybe the nicest guy she knows. He takes her on dates and seems genuinely concerned for her, if incredibly deficient in empathy for an overbearing narcissism that assumes her reluctance to reciprocate his feelings is a direct insult to him. The two aspects of his personality never really conclude their struggle, perhaps because neither one is a particularly heartfelt perspective--he neither really cares for Carol and nor does he really believe she's deliberately tormenting him. It's this bad faith which Carol's instincts detect along with his more honest carnal desires. It all becomes rather insightfully absurd when Colin breaks down her door despite her protests just because he's so darn concerned for her.

Later in the film, the landlord also breaks down Carol's door, his motives to collect rent and to rape Carol being a little less complicated. There are some people who would say that what Carol does to these men in self defence goes too far. I'm not one of those people.

Above all, this is a great film. The influences of New Wave and Cocteau are obvious but Polanski's genius is the primary creative force here. So many things in the film are inspired--the rabbit Carol leaves to rot with her sister's boyfriend's straight razor, the cracks in her walls, her co-worker's retelling of Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush that becomes eerily sinister beside Carol's frightening reality. The man who sees Chaplin as a giant walking roast turkey has too much credibility from Carol's point of view.

Twitter Sonnet #440

The feathers of hate flatter no bonnet.
Giant gas whales recede from victory.
We know there's no such thing as a sonnet.
Paper bat lamps can't light the rectory.
Longer bunnies outmatch the shorter hare.
Purple blends to black when white bowls are wet.
Troubling tangerine rickshaws stall the dare.
To-day the old gangsters will make no bet.
Double percent negates multiple sods.
Planters clenched the floral oesophagus.
Chlorophyll tongues frenched against dirty odds.
Fire frightens the Snuffleupagus.
Steel strings stagger towards the royal creep stage.
Resonance soon reverts the glossy rage.

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