Sunday, August 16, 2015


SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

“Welcome to my nightmare.” That is what it feels like Roman Polanski is saying to us with this 1965 movie, his second feature film, which explores a young woman’s descent into madness in trendy London.

At the time this motion picture was made, feminism was just a small tributary flowing alongside the mainstream of society. The “free love” idea of the 1960’s, although allowing women to explore their sexuality, was mostly an exploitation of the current anti-establishment rule-breaking by men to gratify their sexual desires. The roles offered women in the context of this film are limited. The main character, Carol Ledoux (a beautiful, thick maned Catherine Deneuve – is she an animal to be hunted, or is she a dangerous lioness?) is a manicurist in a beauty salon. She works in a place whose sole purpose is to make women beautiful for men. She lives with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) in an apartment. Helen is having an affair with an insensitive married man, Michael (Ian Hendry), which indicates her lack of fully satisfying relationship opportunities.

Polanski likes to use apartments to illustrate the sensation of sinister forces closing in on people. He does it again in Rosemary’s Baby. Here, how the brutish Michael’s existence invades Carol’s safety is seen by how she is repulsed by his toothbrush placed in her bathroom glass, and his razor takes up space on the bathroom sink area. She is subjected to the loud lovemaking of Helen and Michael in the next room at night. The sound of the ticking clock seem amplified to her (just as it does in Rosemary’s Baby), suggesting the inevitable movement toward one’s fate. In the apartment, she cannot escape the sounds of the world crashing in on her, whether it’s the water dripping inside, or the city’s noises outside. These become amplified as the story progresses.

Her aversion to sex becomes more evident. Carol rejects Colin (John Fraser), a man who appears harmless enough, but who is just another male attracted to her looks. He really doesn’t look at her as a complete person. She is harassed by workers on the street, again showing the one-thing-on the-mind attitude of men. She picks up and smells Michael’s undershirt, and it makes her vomit. She hardly eats anything. Sex and eating are equated in literature and film (remember the dining scene in Tom Jones?). Her rejection of food symbolizes her lack of appetite for sex. She encounters women who do not need men who appear content. She looks out the window at the celibate nuns in a courtyard, who are joyful as they play a game. An older woman who lives across the hall no longer needs sex in her life, and has a faithful, comforting companion in her pet dog. The skinned rabbit that was to be dinner when Carol comes home from work is another reminder of a woman’s role, as it does in the movie Fatal Attraction: the notion that “the rabbit died” indicates pregnancy. She also doesn’t cook, which is another role relegated to women. Is it a wonder that Carol allows the rabbit and potatoes to sit out and rot, indicating her failure as a woman in this man’s world? It also illustrates her mental deterioration.

That she is not mentally stable becomes more and more apparent. She has a glazed over look in her eyes. She is in a distracted state at her job when she injures the hand of a woman during a manicure. Her cutting the client’s finger shows how she subconsciously rejects the objectification of women based on looks. This rejection can also be seen in the way she wishes to dismiss her own beauty by chewing on her hair and swatting at her nose, as if to cut it off to spite her face. It also is a foreshadowing of what is to happen later. After her sister and Michael leave for a vacation in Italy, Carol shuts herself up in the apartment. Helen sends her a postcard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a tilted, erect, phallic symbol, which, is viewed as another assault on Carol’s fragile mental state. The disintegrating food draws flies, and we hear the loud buzzing, emphasizing her madness. Carol hallucinates that the cracks in the walls are getting larger with accompanying loud crumbling sounds. Michael’s wife makes an abusive phone call to Helen, but Carol takes it as an attack on herself, and rips out the phone. She imagines a man is in the apartment who rapes her repeatedly. We get an insight of why Carol is damaged. There is a family photograph which shows her as a young girl, standing by herself, staring away with a sad look on her face. There is an older man in the photo who also appears uninvolved. Perhaps she was abused as a child by an older male family member.

The males in a pub with Colin are also painted as grotesque exploiters of women. Colin is disgusted by them. He goes to the apartment to find out why Carol has not been around. He may mean well, but he still ignores her desire to be left alone, and breaks down the door, symbolically violating her. She bludgeons him with, appropriately, a phallic-shaped candlestick. She nails a piece of wood across the door to barricade herself in. The landlord (Patrick Wymark) also forces his way in, and, after assuming Carol’s revealing nightclothes are a come-on, tries to have sex with her. Carol slashes him to death, again, ironically, with a male object, Michael razor.

When Helen and Michael arrive back at the apartment, they and the other tenants realize the horrors that have occurred. Carol is carried out of the apartment by Michael, which seems on the surface like a rescue from her torment, but can be interpreted as being transported by another callous male to some other place that is not safe from abuse.

Is this film just a portrait of a disturbed woman succumbing to her psychotic demons, or are we also presented with an avenging spirit meting out female justice to male sexual tyranny?

Next week’s movie is The Spanish Prisoner.

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