On Repulsion

05Jan08

As we watch Repulsion, the Roman Polanski film starring “the young” Catherine Deneuve, it’s hard not to be impressed by the way Polanski — like so many great artists — seems to predict the future. Released in 1965, the film presents a tightly wound portrait of a London which — and as a metaphor of Western society — is about to experience a complete meltdown, a freak-out of extreme hallucination on the order of what Deneuve delivers with such imperious beauty and sang-froid. To think of it in these terms makes the film even more terrifying than it already is, particularly as we note the homosexual undercurrents in the film — the way Deneuve seems only at ease in the company of her sister or female co-worker, and how she is repeatedly and brutally molested by rather average-looking men (both real and imagined) — and our suspicion that well, things just aren’t that much different now. When it’s finally over, we feel some relief at being relinquished from the grip of such claustrophobic terror (most of the “horror” effects have aged pretty well, especially the man in the mirror), yet as we reflect on it further, we are suddenly shaken as an even more disturbing thought arises: what if “the future” Polanski was foretelling — you might even say creating — was not the late 60s, but a nervous breakdown we are just about to experience? What if, for example, underneath the cheap optimism on display since Iowa, it turns out that we have already begun an inexorable and merciless descent into madness?

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