rev., January 7, 2016.
This is part 2 of a treatment of Repulsion; see previous post for part 1.
At the beginning, over the titles, of Repulsion (1965), there is a close-up of a human eye, presumably the eye of Catherine Deneuve, who plays Carol, a young woman of impossible beauty, who goes insane. This places all the movie, visually, inside the entoptic universe of the mind’s eye, or rather, the eye as projected through by personal mentality.
This device is then reaffirmed time and again by POV shots in which we see, but don’t see, the world in which Carol walks, from behind her head. In all these shots, her blonde hair represents the static stage of hypnagogy, that she is just seeing a random run on of abstract patterns, and not connecting with any of the reality. She moves mechanically through the world, seeing nothing
what she does see, the purkinjee tree substitute of her hair and the back of her head says, shoots right back to her deep memory, and POV related to deep mental trauma, not seeing the thing before it, but it only as it reflects on some trigger meme fixed in the back of the brain, triggering re-experienced trauma
she stares at the world, or gawks at it, makes no sense of it, doesn’t engage it. In this shot, she is looking out the window, but really gawking aimlessly out of it. The picture of the flowers, an oval with an innocuous spray of floral patterns, again, as suggested before, represents the vacuousness and emptiness of her particular POV
at one point, her hair’s presence, or what one might call her “hairy eye,” that is, the eye blinded by internal fears and concerns, to see only what it wants to see, to not see the real, only the projected unreal, links up to a classic landscape painting in the main room of her sister’s apartment, and it is, oddly, visually aligned with her blonde hair, it too has an aloof look about it
reinforcing the notion that her hair is a cover or an effacement which blocks out the world is that when she is shy out in social situations she uses her hair to hide in
this is in fact the “hairy eye” right here. Again, one eye is blank, staring ahead, not paying attention, the other eye is blocked by hair, indicating a eye blinded by inner entoptic obsessions
one of the most interesting dissociative elements of the movie is that she obviously knows how beautiful her hair is, what effect it has on others, when she brushes it, she has complete girl control of the brush, her brushes are done with casual expertise. She positions it and treats it just so, but automatically, as if not appreciating it. The fact that in this shot she is profiled against a phalanx of cameo pictures of Mary Shelley type ladies indicates that she has indeed been groomed in princess culture, and knows how to be a lady, but somehow it all means nothing to her
it is perhaps arguable that Polanski made too much use of her hair as a symbol of her psychosis, but this only indicates that he had to work hard early on to convince the viewer that we were in her reality, not objective reality.
But it is also true that Polanski had the problem of having to represent on screen the progression of a mental breakdown, in a visual way without dialog. In this regard, after having made use of the hair to simply displace us from active waking consciousness to her rather dreamy entoptic level of vigilogogic waking state, that is not quite a waking state, he then appears to begin to muss it up and tossle it for it and its strands to represent the whooshing wormhole/spiral down into a deeper level of dream imagery.
A few comments. The model that I have derived for the use of hypnagogic imagery to capture altered states of consciousness in horror movies, developed from watching those movies, involves five stages, as noted before: the entoptic, the glass onion, the lattice, the whoosh wormhole/spiral and the REM deep dream (classic dream) state. In the modernist period, most thinkers went straight to dream, and thought that the entoptic was accessible only by way of drugs. Not true in horror, the representation of hypnagogic states on the way to dream is part of the basic vocabulary, developed to represent haunting.
But then there is the additional challenge of linking this dream model to the model, also derived from horror, of a psychotic breakdown. This is a six phase model, starts with a 1) genius, then, when something goes wrong, he develops a sense of 2) himself victimized, in that state he rebuilds to become 3) an avatar of his former self, to enact his vengeance he then takes on a 4) golem, but that golem inevitably gets carried away and becomes 5) a monster that consumes even him, and then the monster morphs one more time into 6) the beast of the apocalypse, a berserker run amok (I call this the Konga model, developed based on that movie). Thus far, Carol represents a lesser or subordinate model of madness that also persisted in modern horror, not the genius, but the supershy, sensitive girl, who doesn’t quite blossom as a person, that is, a nonstarter. That state of being is represented in the static of her hair, and in her behavior around others. But then her victimization is internalized, and it is in the experiencing of her rape fantasies that she becomes an avatar of her former self. These stages were covered in part one to this note. Now, the job is to see how she moves on into the golem state, and from there to the monster, and then even to the bezerker state, if she does.
Is it possible, then, to link vigilogogic states (waking states comparable to hypnagogic states) with mental states in this movie?
It is probable that, though not consciously working with these particular models, Polanski was aware of some sort of transitional model (Huxley had one), and sought to represent the transition from state to state. As a modernist filmmaker, one way to do this was by the structuralist device of having one central symbol epitomize the whole proceedings. Here, then, the stage model is represented by the rabbit, once 1) edible delicacy, then left out to 2) rot, then to turn into a 3) disgusting thing, then noted by the landlord as a 5)monster to be disposed of–and then ending up as 6) garbage. But, in any case, at this point, she sees the rabbit, but through her hair, representing her psychotic backofbrain self, she sees a repulsive physical being, a weird sort of embryo too (as Polanski mentioned in commentary). That is, it is the lattice image of the movie, announcing descent to the golem stage
The lattice stage is most often represented by, in fact, a mental lattice, a kind of chandelier, or arborized mesh of lines, and then the lattice image, the heavy persistent image weighs it down. If the rabbit is the trigger image that weighs down, then the cracking up of the apartment would provide the mesh that is being cracked open by it. That is, it is by her hairy eye, that she sees the apartment begin to crack up, the cracks being more or less lattice element
In the same place, the cracks rearrange the sightings of the golem, the fantasy rapist. She has previously madly called up the rapist, to act as a golem for/against her (somehow getting some sexual satisfaction from it) in her avatar phase. It is with her back turned to us, and her hair, that, Polanski exploiting a bathroom mirror startle effect so common in horror, and with a loud clang of score too, that we saw earlier through her eye the first manifestation of the invading bogeyman rapist
But now, on a deeper level, she has begun to crack up the apartment with her telekinetic force, her alienation propelled against the walls. In this phase, her inner turmoil is figured out by a fantasy golem turned monster, embodied by the apartment itself, and the sexual threat embodied by it as a whole (going back to hearing sex noises through the walls, see part one), taking the form of a mob of bogeyman rapists. At the lattice stage, the apartment begins to manifest fully, and figuratively, as an externalization of her inner breakdown
The movie really is remarkable for its phased creativity in tending to every dimension of the descent into madness. Formerly, before she had killed, she had imagined rape fantasies coming through the wall. Now, strolling the corridor, she imagines the walls become the rapists, groping her (this out of Beauty and the Beast).
they even grope her breasts
But if she simply remained in her earlier golem-creator warring against her bogeymen stage, she might, as the avatar of a new self, have survived. However, this is a full-scale collapse, and so now we tumble down the whoosh wormhole/spiral stage, which is equivalent to the monster turning against her stage. That is, having in her mind created a vision of the apartment as a living being harboring rapists which she must fight against, the apartment now turns against even this formulation, it is out of control, and she is lost in it.
This is represented by the remarkable camera work in the last third of the movie where the apartment, with a focus lens on the camera switched, zooms off into an eerie distance, as if by miscropsia, to represent her as haunted through and through, and feeling lost in space. This first happens in the bathroom, in a classic lattice shot, close-up profile of character in foreground, eerily combined with a whoosh-away shot
but reaches its peak in the living room, where Polanski not only had the lens changed, but asked the art director to rebuild the set at a stretched dimension.
But to get to this last phase, there must be yet another crisis incident, to, at the bottom of the whoosh, drop us down to the final phase, and, sure enough, this movie, so carefully parsed, provides one. It involves the great scene where the landlord comes calling for the rent, then finds her in her night gown only, and makes a pass at her, only to get sliced open for his troubles. He of course cannot possibly understand why a girl like that would be walking all over an apartment in chaos in that get up, and then, even when she sits, now, is entirely uninterested in her modesty, and its effect on him. That is, she is now deep in the whoosh down the spiral-monster state, kind of disembodied, the evil apartment force has overrun her, she is not really there, and just reacting mechanically to menace
tragically, having fought off boys and then imaginary rapists for the whole movie, she unconsciously, overwhelmed by the monster stage of madness, strikes by far her sexiest pose in this context, to give the sleazy landlord his nasty idea
the most impressive insight in this scene is that, at the bottom of the wormhole whoosh, it is a quiet pause, a chamber of consideration, at the bottom of madness, in which Polanski regroups to stage an actual dramatic scene, to show how psycho she now is–and it involves again the landscape painting. Traditionally, in horror, a landscape painting symbolizes trouble coming this way. As explained elsewhere, a landscape with a meandering central zigzag road or river, as here, additionally indicates a running down the wormhole, but, then, this an exaggerated version of that, so here it is, remarkably, ably placed in exactly the right place in the psychological breakdown model as projected by the apartment.
but it is in addition to all that, situated over a record player, the rotating record of which also symbolizes the wormhole (a needle let run on vinyl after the groove ends symbolizes, in modern film, death), but, then it also appears to be a modern ersatz mockup of a Chinese landscape, which makes it not only relate more to the static to her blondeness and her aloofness and her askant listening to him, here, in the sunlight, symbol of her visionary state, it also distances things, it is the landscape equivalent of the micropsia’d lens that enlarged the room, reporting that, serving as a property with meaning with regard to her, no one is home anymore. It promises, that is, complete chaos
And in this murder, a new symbol comes into play, as, out of her mind, appalled even at herself, she stabs and stabs him, her blank horrified eye profiled by the open underside view of a lamp
the lamp then shining a light on the fact that she has upturned the couch she was molested on to punish him in kind, under it, making it his coffin
and then when she, in a completely mentally gone state, the whole thing having been overcome by deep dream state surreality, and its out of control bezerker momentum, she stares, and stares, and the lamp blinds her, and reaching to turn it off, she knocks it over
and we get a straight on final whoosh, down the very symbol of destruction, in the parlor lingua franca of modern film, the fallen lamp (also see in Legend of Hell House, for example), into the bezerker state
in this state, we have arrived at rock bottom surreality, the deep dream REM state, but, in this model, the stage of totally out of control madness, the madness as all but a natural force entirely in control. And, sure enough, there IS a further refined progression to this lower state, as Polanski stretched out the room once again, in a wonderfully weird effect
especially when she walks through it
Then the walls, all of them, are entirely alive, a hecatonchir of pulling, tearing her apart
the hall becomes a destroying gauntlet
and the ceiling lowers down, crushing her
leaving her to die seeking coverage and protection from the monster that her madness has become, embodied in the apartment out to kill her, under the bed
Polanksi in his commentary lamented that in retrospect he thought some of the shots in the movie were rather too arty. I guess I would classify as that the final pan over the mantel, remarking finally what was not apparent in previous treatment of them, that everything about the artifacts of the place are childish, as if not grown out of childhood, (a doll, a manikin pi, from Brussels, a toy)
and then the carpet, in the living room, the sign of utter abjection
bringing us round to an image, on a bureau, we have seen a few times before, Wymark as landlord in particular involving it in the haunting of her in her overcome state, a family picture, and while in thee general view it looked like she was part of the picture, a final closeup shows that she was somehow outcast and lonely and not part of the family, and even at that age looked like a killer to be
So, the models do work rather well. As the visuality of the movie drops down to deeper and deeper vigilogogic dream-equivalent waking states, each stage does seem to parallel a deepening stage of her descent into madness, passing from golem, to monster, to gone, in the presence of a bezerker madness which has taken over everything, destroying her in the process. It’s a terrific work of film, and even better that it does seem to provide evidence of having internalized on an instinctive level some of the basic tropes and models of madness and dreaming in modern horror. While critics praise art house films as abstract exercises of pure film-making that transcended the low-down conventions of genre movies, this analysis suggests that Polanski knew of the conventions of the horror genre, in terms of representing madness through altered states of consciousness, and worked with them, with the art residing in the fact that he worked with them in a masterly, inspired way.