I should warn you, in advance, that you could replace my review of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion with an Arrested Development dead_dove.GIF. I didn't like it, but it serves me right for opening the bag.
The thing is, though, that I actually do like some Roman Polanski movies. Polanski is an unrepentant rapist, but (like plenty of scumbags throughout history) he was good at his job. I still like Rosemary’s Baby, which I watched before I knew who Polanski was. I can see what there is to admire in Chinatown.
Repulsion, which gets name-checked a lot as (a) one of Polanski’s best films and (b) perhaps his biggest contribution to the horror genre, is not Rosemary’s Baby. It’s not even Chinatown. Here is what it is:
Repulsion is a movie about a fragile, virginal, very beautiful young woman, played by Catherine Deneuve, who has a pathological fear of men. She thinks they’re all out to rape her, which is crazy. She locks herself up in her apartment, isolating herself from the world. Then, about halfway through the movie, Catherine Deneuve hallucinates that she’s being raped. Then she hallucinates it again. And again. And again. Then one or two men actually do try to rape her. Then she hallucinates some more rape. Then she dies or enters some kind of open-eyed coma, I'm not sure. A different man drags her off and (it’s implied) rapes her. The end.
Could you come up with a feminist reading of Repulsion? Sure: Something like “is it really so crazy to be terrified of men given how prevalent rape is.” That would work. There are movies that I like, or would call feminist, that are clearly influenced by Repulsion — Ms. 45, a much pulpier and better movie, owes a lot to it.
But Repulsion — even more than Chinatown, even more than Rosemary’s Baby, which is impressive, given that both of those movies also center on rape — is a movie where you can’t ignore the fact that Roman Polanski is, well, Roman Polanski. No matter how you might try to read all those rape scenes as subversive or self-critical, there are just too many of them, and they all hit the exact same beats, so you’re distractingly aware that you’re looking at some dude’s fetish. You’re also aware that said dude raped a thirteen-year-old and fled the country. I don’t dispute that Polanski was an important director, or that (some of) his work should be read apart from his life story, but there’s no way to read this particular movie as anything other than a confession.
So, yeah: Dead dove. Do not eat. Do not look in bag; you know what’s in there. I did, too, but for some reason I had to see.