Repulsion by Jeremy Carr is the latest entry in the Devil’s Advocates series from Liverpool University Press. It deals with the 1965 release starring Catherine Deneuve (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg ) as Carole a paranoid manicurist in swinging London. The other stars include Patrick Wymark, Ian Hendry and John Fraser, all of whom reputedly settled for a lower fee in order to work with the trendy young Polish director Roman Polanski. * Wymark and Fraser would work together again on the Australian premiere of the play Sleuth in July 1970.

*Wymark had been awarded a BAFTA as best TV actor for 1964

Repulsion has been written about so often that the book’s bibliography is wrapped around it like a black lace shawl. There is probably no opinion about Repulsion that has not been written and Jeremy Carr has done his best to pull them into order. However, he starts by acknowledging that, “Roman Polanski probably wouldn’t care for much of what is contained in this book.” He acknowledges that Polanski has played down attempts to read personal meaning into his work, even though, “films like Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant would be forever linked to what befell Polanski’s personal life in the years prior and those following.” (page 88). Ironically though, Polanski himself was not immune to reading hidden meanings into pop art and Carr quotes Barbara Leaming saying that, “although Levin later denied it, Polanski thought that the novelist must have seen Repulsion and been influenced by it. How otherwise account for his own feeling of familiarity.”

The book breaks Repulsion down into themes of Isolation , Sex and Paranoia pulling out an astute reminder from Kate Hagen that while the imagery may seem obvious today, “to present such an imagistic look at a modern London woman’s fear of sexuality and men in 1965 was truly radical.” Any, “what about…” comments are swiftly headed off when Carr includes an eight page section entitled, “Rape and the Polanski Dilemma.” Again marshalling a backlog of comment, Carr suggests that, “there is little to add to the insightful, considerate comments of these female critics.”

With regard to Carole’s paranoia, Jeremy Carr notes that, “for all her aversion…Carol almost seems to seek out these points of revulsion in a form of masochistic torture..” in almost the same way as a modern horror film audience. Similarly, Polanski provides the audience with knowledge the characters do not have (“the unsuspecting landlord who accosts Carol as she stands with the razor blade behind her back for only us to see,”)

After three chapters exploring Carol’s internal landscape, the final section examines the methods by which the inexperienced director and low-budget producers put together the movie. Much like Nigel Kneale in The Quatermass Experiment, Polanski was forced by budget constraints to act as his own special effects assistant in the sequences where the rooms and passages of Carole’s flat shifted shape. “Polanski often handled the contraptions himself, acknowledging, ‘they took longer to set up than expected.'”

After leading us through the journey inside Carol’s mind, Jeremy Carr concludes by saying that in the final moments, “We step outside Carol’s madness to bear witness to the horror of others, a horror that presents the disconcerting notion of what anyone – anyone we know – may be capable of. It’s a curious associative process that Polanski, better than most, could understand and illustrate.”

Jeremy Carr – Repulsion (2021). Auteur – Liverpool University Press £19.99 – ISBN 978-1-80085-933-3