Roman Polanski BFI Retrospective – Projections: A Psychoanalysis of Polanski’s ‘Apartment’ Trilogy

Simon Columb reports on the BFI’s Projections: A Psychoanalysis of Polanski’s ‘Apartment’ Trilogy talk…

Roman Polanski remains a fascinating filmmaker to this day. Alongside Andrej Wajda and Jerzy Skolimowski, Polanski came to the fore in the late 1950s in Poland. The BFI in London are screening all of Polanski’s films during January and February and throughout January, essays on separate films will be released here on Flickering Myth in the hope that you too can join us in reflecting on Polanski’s diverse and ever-expanding career. In addition to screenings, the BFI also provided talks including Projections: A Psychoanalysis of Polanski’s ‘Apartment’ Trilogy…

In London we are privileged to have a broad range of activities that involve cinema. This particular treat at the British Film Institute is one example of something that would be difficult to access anywhere else in Britain outside of Universities. Mary Wild, situated within the new BFI Reuben Library, led a talk and consequent discussion on Roman Polanski’s ‘Apartment’ trilogy, comprised of Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. My own recent viewing of Repulsion was fresh in my mind, whilst Rosemary’s Baby has stayed in my mind ever since I watched the film a couple of years ago. The Tenant, on the other hand, I have yet to see and I am keen to watch it (and analyse it here on Flickering Myth) when I visit the BFI on January 30th.

Mary Wild begun her discussion explaining the Freudian psychoanalytical interpretation she was due to apply to each of Polanski’s films – focusing on the key, lead characters in each; Carol in Repulsion, Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby and finally Trelkovsky in The Tenant. Each character analysed in this manner, reveals that they each hold underlying, subconscious urges and desires that are repressed and therefore manifest themselves in a different manner.

Wild managed to deconstruct all three films in the hour-and-a-half lecture and then drew parallels between all three films. It truly was a fascinating insight into each film – and will surely ensure that I perceive cinema, and crucially character-based films in a different light in the future. In Rosemary’s Baby, Wild highlighted how core the character of Guy truly is. Rather than merely a story of a difficult pregnancy, Wild managed to highlight how the pregnancy represented the growing awareness that Rosemary’s married life is a sham – and that Guy was anything but a good husband. The dream-sequence in the film is a fascinating example of the Freud-connection, as it portrays Rosemary – often named ‘Roe’/Row – on board an expensive yacht before she walks down, away from her life and into the bowels of her mind… revealing ritualistic and satanic acts.

This was only one element of one film that Mary Wild aptly explained – and it will change my own reading of the film in future. The night ended as she then analysed briefly the connection between Black Swan and the trilogy – specifically Repulsion. In my research for the Repulsion analysis I noted how Darren Aronofsky was inspired by Polanski – but I never knew how much. The recurring themes and almost shot-by-shot imitations show that these films were crucial in the making of Black Swan. In addition to this, Wild pointed out how important a scream mid-film combined with a finale that verges on performance is crucial in the Freudian reading as these moments portray the initial loss-of-mind and the eventual reveal, publicly, to others of the psychological trauma.

The beauty of cinema is within the multiple layers that reside within a film. To deconstruct characters and narrative so that you can reflect and consider how it applies to yourself and everyday life is what lifts cinema from mere entertainment. The BFI manage to present a way to “get inside the head” of Polanski and truly understand a series that you take away and consider, next, how this may reflect on society itself. The viscous cycle of child-abuse; the discrimination of homosexuality; the constraints of a false-marriage. These are real issues – and Polanski manages to delve deeper than merely highlighting the issue. He manages to show how destructive these attitudes truly are.

For more on the BFI’s Roman Polanski retrospective, or to book tickets, visit the official site.

Simon Columb