New Criticals

Some might see this as problematic, indeed some might suggest that Polanski’s women are everywhere tortured and pathologized, that Polanski himself is one of a long line of male directors that thrill in tormenting their female characters and the actresses themselves: see also Alfred Hitchcock and of course Lars von Trier.

It seems to me, though, that while Hitchcock positions himself firmly in the director’s chair, over and above his character’s plight, Polanski’s films never feel wholly outside the experience and struggle of their female leads.  Films like Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion are what Tzvetan Todorov calls fantastic: these are stories that do not finally establish whether their bizarre events are real (and thus their world is unlike ours) or imagined (and thus their protagonists are unreliable).  And in aligning himself, through the character of Trelkovksy/Simone, with the women whose stories he is interested to tell, Polanski demonstrates that he is not only concerned to orchestrate and present a world in which women are tortured but is also invested in understanding such a world and position from within.  Again, while The Tenant is darkly funny and even cheeky—as when he coos “I’m pregnant,” or his own head bounces gently outside his window—Polanski takes this role, this person, utterly seriously; the humour comes not from pointing at Trelkovksy/Simone and laughing, but from recognizing in the exaggeration and excess something deeply familiar, deeply possible.  In The Tenant, as in all of his films about women, Polanski's focus is on what Jonathan Rosenbaum has called "humane anguish."