Carol suffers from Agraphobia, a morbid fear of sexual assault, her eyes revealing the repulsion that lurks in the dark recesses of her psyche. This beautiful young lady sleepwalks through her life as she slowly descends into madness, consumed with dread of being isolated from her sister and of the men whose leering gaze often caress her delicate form.
Director Roman Polanski has crafted a psychological maelstrom of anxiety and suspense, physically distancing the viewer from Carol while allowing us to experience her intense delusions from her psychotic perspective. She becomes fearful of every man: her sister Helen’s boyfriend, Colin a young man who continually asks her out on dates, and the sleazy landlord (for good reason). It’s no coincidence she works in a beauty shop surrounded by women, a haven that separates her from potential male contact. When Helen goes on vacation for ten days, Carol is left alone, emotionally skinned like a dead rabbit, and eaten by paranoia and panic.
Aural hallucinations precede her violent fantasies where ghostly men haunt dark mirrors, rise from the convolutions of disheveled night sheets, or their waxy hands extruding from the walls to steal her sanity. Polanski has crafted a genuine horror film without a supernatural element, the terror of a mind turning in upon itself unable to separate truth from fiction: it’s in this cortex of soft tissue that real monsters exist who devour our perceptions.
With riveting suspense, Polanski films the final act of madness in Carol’s tiny apartment with sweating close-ups and skewed angles, converging with sudden acts of unexpected violence and bloodshed. Carol’s senses are spiked by the tolling of a church bell, or the shrill tremulousness of a phone and haunted by the hungry buzzing of flies. Night after night she imagines herself being raped by ethereal men, their faces momentarily revealed to be her acquaintances, until she finally commits two very real acts of murder.
Soon discovered comatose and surrounded by gawking neighbors, it’s a man who gently carries her towards help. Polanski then unveils the final clue in a stark black and white photograph of Carol’s childhood: with shadows obscuring the face of her father, her sister’s head upon his lap, Carol stands behind them starring vacantly into the void of her incestuous prison.
Final Grade: (A)