Thematic criticism analysis Roman Polanski

One thematic analysis of Roman Polanski's films claims: 'Polanski's work might be seen as an attempt to map out the precise relationship between the contemporary world's instability and tendency to violence and the individual's increasing inability to overcome his isolation and locate some realm of meaning or value beyond himself (Telotte and McCarty 1998: 388). This analysis, although general, is nonetheless quite precise in its delineation of Polanski's themes. It does not simply state that Polanski's films contain a conflict between 'the contemporary world' and 'the individual' (which is not very informative). Instead, it adds detail to each category of the opposition -a violent, unstable contemporary world; an isolated individual with no faith or conviction, who finds it increasingly difficult to overcome his isolation or adopt beliefs.

Telotte and McCarty's characterization then outlines the themes of instability and isolation in more detail. First, isolation. Many of Polanski's films focus on a character or small group of characters isolated from society. Examples include (we have added to Telotte and McCarty's list): characters confined to boats in Knife in the Water, Bitter Moon, and Pirates; a small group of characters occupying an isolated castle in Cul-de-Sac; characters isolated in their own apartments in Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant, three characters cut off from the rest of civilization in an isolated house in Death and the Maiden; an American doctor lost and isolated in France as he tries to find his kidnapped wife (Frantic). In addition, Telotte and McCarty argue: 'All [Polanski's] characters try continually, however clumsily, to connect with other human beings, to break out of their isolation and to free themselves of their alienation' (p. 390). As is common in thematic criticism, Telotte and McCarty focus their analysis on characters, particularly their actions and psychological states. They even use the 'commentative heuristic' (see Chapter 3 above) to map the desolate landscape characters occupy onto the characters' psychology: the 'geography of isolation [in Polanski's films] is often symbolically transformed into a geography of the mind, haunted by doubts, fears, desires, or even madness' (p. 389).

In terms of Polanski's second main theme, that of a violent contemporary world, Telotte and McCarty do not only relate it to the theme of isolation, but also outline Polanski's attitude towards it: '[Polanski] is able to assume an ironic, even highly comic attitude towards the ultimate and, as he sees it, inevitable human problem - an abiding violence and evil nurtured even as we individually struggle against these forces' (p. 390). The isolated individuals struggle against the violence and evil of the contemporary world, but at the same time they nurture what they struggle against. This complex theme is epitomized in one of Polanski's most famous films - Rosemary's Baby. 'The basic event of Rosemary's Baby - Rosemary's bearing the offspring of the devil, a baby whom she fears yet, because of the natural love of a mother for her own child, nurtures - might be seen as a paradigm of Polanski's vision of evil and its operation in our world' (pp. 389-90).

Virginia Wright Wexman analyses Polanski's themes from a different perspective, by identifying the influence of the Theatre of the Absurd and Surrealism on his films (Wexman 1979). Polanski's focus on man isolated in a meaningless universe is a theme that derives from the Theatre of the Absurd. Wexman then argues that Polanski develops this theme by focusing 'on shifting power relationships, usually precipitated by the arrival of an outsider into a group, which forces a reshuffling of status and privilege' (Wexman 1979: 8). Additional consequences of the influence of the Theatre of the Absurd include these: Polanski's films are full of pessimism, of callous exploiters and willing victims, and circular plots, which 'leave the characters no better off at the end than they were at the beginning' (Wexman 1979: 10). One of the clear influences of Surrealism is to be found in his films' focus on deviant behaviour, persecution, and paranoid delusion. Finally, Wexman does not argue that Polanski assumes an ironic or comic attitude towards his themes, but argues instead that he refuses 'to permit audiences to feel for his characters what the characters are unable to feel for one another' (p. 12).

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  • procopio
    How to analyze the films of roman polanski?
    7 years ago

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