The apartment trilogy consists of three movies made by Roman Polanski, whom we know well from movies such as The Pianist (2002) and Chinatown (1974). This Apartment Trilogy holds a great autobiographical importance for Polanski since all these apartments in the movies reflect the inner worlds of its characters. These three movies are respectively Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976). Especially in The Tenant, Polanski himself takes a role as Trelkovsky and he is a direct display of a mentally disturbed, socially excluded, lonely character. Since he is Polish in origin, he always suffered because of his Jewish roots. His family was torn apart during World War II. He always had to be kept away from Nazis and had to be protected. Because of his origin, he always felt like he was the other. He lived in France but he was coming from another place, so he never felt like home. Home was the place he has been kept disturbed in.
The Apartment Trilogy reflects all these feelings of disturbance and otherness. The walls have cracks, there are voices that keep coming and there’s no escape from descending into madness. This situation is valid for all these three movies of Apartment Trilogy. Although one might believe that the evil force in Rosemary’s Baby is for real, if we take the whole idea of Apartment Trilogy into consideration, we come to an understanding that in Rosemary’s Baby everything was there because of Rosemary’s imagination. Her loneliness, her fears of getting pregnant and deep down her regrets of leaving the church caused her loss of reality. Both in Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby we have woman protagonists but The Tenant is a bit more special among them.
The Tenant is like a reflection of Polanski’s real life; away from home, feeling strange, discriminated by people and he finds no peace. He was even banned by church in the movie. Because of the duality in terms of being a Jew and a Christian, we see the theme of church in all of these movies. Church represents the salvation, cleanliness, right path but it’s also the place where the characters are banned from and where they always look at but they can do it only from a long distance. They can never get closer to church. In The Tenant, we see the most extreme and direct form of it. He gets into a church and the priest directly speaks to him. He banishes him, curses him and his paranoia of being punished is so extreme that he hears these cursing voices of the priest, although it is obvious that these are nothing but hallucinations.
From Childhood Trauma to Real Life Madness
After this introduction to The Apartment Trilogy, we can now talk about its first film, Repulsion. This movie employs a young, beautiful woman named Carol (Catherine Deneuve) who is repulsed by any kind of sexual connotation. Her feelings of repulsion increase any time she sees her sister’s boyfriend’s belongings in the bathroom. She dislikes any kind of masculinity and any kind of goods about it. Her apartment is her body and every time we see a crack on the wall, we understand that she feels that there are holes and there is an unwanted penetration to her body. There are surreal hands and arms coming from the walls. They feel too real as much as we know how they can’t be real. Her fear and disgust are so real that we become a part of her world and we feel attacked besides her.
She feels as the other, just like Trelkovsky (Polanski) does in The Tenant. She feels like an infinite dirt that no matter how much she cleans herself, she can’t be clean. She looks from afar to the garden in which the nuns play. She looks there with a hope and yearning to be among them, to be cleaned but there’s a huge gap between their safe garden and her disturbed, raped, violated apartment. Her madness goes out of control especially after her sister leaves. She despises and fears being alone. Because that’s the time when everything about her childhood comes to her mind with no escape.
Grasping the Tragedy Through Details
The movie is full of metaphoric details. Careful eyes can detect those and grasp the meaning behind them. We can see a direct decrease in her appetite, which represents her non-existent sexual appetite. In addition, no matter how handsome he is, Carol doesn’t want a relationship with that young man called Colin (John Fraser). She feels attacked so much that she starts to see holes on the streets. These holes and cracks can represent a woman’s sexual organ since all her sickness is about her sexuality. After her sister leaves, the rabbit in the refrigerator remains uneaten. But Carol takes it outside in the kitchen and let it rot. We can think of the symbolism of a rabbit in two ways. First, it’s something very childish, innocent and playful like cartoons. Second, it represents sexuality in a contrasting way. Once a healthy, innocent rabbit becomes a filthy, rotten, sickening thing, just like Carol did.
When we think of her delusions in her room, clock ticking and the voice of water dropping, we can say that these are marks from her long distance memory. Water, both representing purity, sexuality and fertility, can be a voice in her childhood house. Clock ticking might be showing the time after midnight, in which her father or another older male figure was coming to her room, to rape her. Carol was acting like somebody literally raping her but we couldn’t see anyone. She was just reliving her childhood. She lost her sense of reality and since the apartment is Carol herself, she killed Colin immediately when he entered there by force. She was just trying to protect herself, which she couldn’t do when she was only a little girl.
The movie tells a very sad and tragic story and when you think deeply, it seriously breaks the heart. After her descent into madness, she slowly turned into a child. That’s why we can be sure that these are all about her childhood trauma. She started to dress like a girl, she kept eating sugar and she acted like a girl, instead of a woman. When the owner of the house tried to take advantage of her, she killed him as well, naturally.
Apartments as Distinct Characters
When we think about the apartment itself, we can see that its size changes according to Carol’s mood and perception. The same thing happens in The Tenant too. The size of the bathroom in Repulsion, after the murder of Colin, gets extremely big, as if it has no end. This explains Carol’s perception of herself, so small and vulnerable within an extremely big space including a dead body. Since her perception of herself also changes, she starts to see herself as a monstrous, ugly and ill-proportioned thing. Although she sees that, she keeps looking at it like she is curious about it. She doesn’t see the beauty in herself, as the others do, she sees only a dirt that has to be cleaned.
From The Eye To The Depths of The Soul
Repulsion’s beginning and its end give lots of insights about the whole of the movie. It opens with Carol’s eye. As far as we know from the movies, we can say that the eyes are the doors to the soul. They are special for the person who carries them. They represent identity and the most hidden, darkest parts of the soul. With this opening, we know that we would be watching a movie about this woman’s secrets and deep parts of her identity, maybe about the things which even she doesn’t know about. After all these ambiguities and symbolisms, the movie explains itself with a very small detail at the end: With her gaze at her father, as we assume, we all come to an understanding that he was the one who kept coming at nights and she was raped by him. All her repulsion for sex and herself comes from that childhood trauma.
Repulsion overall is a very strong movie and obviously, it’s not for everyone. It’s a bit hard to watch because of the emotions it evokes. It’s ambiguous, yet so open about the things it wants to talk about. It’s a movie that you would keep thinking about, long after it ends. Since I’m a person that loves movies which leave their marks, Repulsion and overall The Apartment Trilogy are productions which I love and still think about.
In addition to the movie’s in-depth analysis and my personal thoughts on this movie, I would like to thank Ayşegül Doğan for her contributions throughout her Mystery in Film course, especially in terms of The Apartment Trilogy analysis. I learned most of the things I know about these three movies from her and I would like to share these deep insights with you readers.
Ece Mercan YÜKSEL
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