Friday, September 1, 2017

the painted bird

The Tenant (1976; d: Roman Polanski)

When we last caught up with our imperiled Polish emigre in Paris, Trelkovsky (Roman Polanksi), his already tenuous grip on reality seemed to be slipping entirely. Whether the victim of an insidious conspiracy or of his own encroaching mental illness, he is convinced his new neighbors (and others) are attempting to sway him toward suicide, much the same as they had the previous tenant.

Many of the things we've witnessed so far would seem to corroborate this notion of conspiracy, though of late it's become increasingly clear that Trelkovsky's sanity and perspective are not to be trusted, and perhaps they never were.

Take, for instance, our early introduction to the apartment building's concierge (Shelley Winters), and to Trelkovsky himself.

It's so good to be bad.  The wonderful Shelley Winters, having fun.

Either she's a vulgar, morbid woman having a good laugh in the telling of this very recent tragedy, and is possibly emboldened by Trelkovsky's quiet, meek demeanor, or perhaps his perspective is already compromised in some way.  In any case, as he meets the building's other curious residents, his (and by turn, our) suspicion and paranoia continue to flourish amid all manner of strange goings-on and behavior.

Things get weird, indeed, when Trelkovsky finds a strange hole in his wall stuffed with cotton, and behind that cotton a human tooth. And it isn't very long before he wakes up missing a tooth—someone, somehow while he slept, removed his front tooth. That he knows where that tooth can be found—that we know—seems to fit like a piece to a jigsaw.  

Not only is he convinced his neighbors seek his destruction, he's also certain they're trying to push him to become the previous tenant, the young and tragic Miss Simone Choule.  It starts off with little things, like the shopkeeper across the street selling only Simone's beloved Marlboros, always with the excuse they've just run out of everything else.  And of course Miss Choule—whose apartment went up for rent seemingly within days of her fateful jump—left all of her things in the place, including her make-up and clothes.

Even looking out the window has proven precarious, as every time he spies the building's bathroom across the courtyard, he witnesses his strange neighbors frozen in trance, seemingly for hours—sometimes staring back at him.  It lends the proceedings an inexplicable, almost supernatural dread, and no explanation is ever offered.

When Trelkovsky goes to the church services for Simone following her demise (she survives just long enough to get a hospital visit from the new prospective tenant), things go off the rails, his paranoia and delusion kicking into overdrive.

Along with that eerie bit of delirium, he's generally treated as an outsider wherever he goes, his neighbors complain about nocturnal noise-making he doesn't believe he's responsible for, and he's now only able to find solace in Miss Choule's armoire (for which he's bought a wig to complete the illusion).  

When he cruelly slaps a young boy in the park, ostensibly because he believes the child is “one of them”, the viewer is compelled to reinterpret everything we've learned up to this point.  Just who is this Trelkovsky, after all?

And now, well, he's the man on the ledge, daring himself to jump. That he has an appreciative audience eagerly awaiting the spectacle of his plunge comes as little surprise.   

So get it over with, already—jump.

But the horror isn't over yet, the wicked plot not fully realized—because Trelkovsky still breathes.  What's worse, with his body shattered and his conspirators hovering above with perverse delight, he's now completely at their mercy.

And jackals do rather enjoy toying with their prey, don't they?

This must be Hell, non?  

But there is a way out, with a bit of perseverance.  Your broken bones may scream otherwise, but just a little further up, dear, and your suffering will be over.  They will not cheat fate twice, mon chéri.