The Tenant (1976) — Review
Polanski himself stars as a mild-mannered little nebbish who just has a hard time in his new apartment. As with the others in the trilogy, this movie played with themes of madness, duality, paranoia, the occult, and creepy old people.
In fact, it is a close parallel with Rosemary’s Baby in that he is systematically destroyed by the machinations of neighbors with an unnatural hidden nature. When he seeks asylum, he “discovers” that everybody is in on the conspiracy. His friends are useless, boorish and meddlesome. While they are different sexes, they both cross the line in the course of the film — Rosemary with her severe, masculine haircut, and Trelkowski with his more plot-central transformation. The only real difference is that Rosemary was right.
Although, don’t write Trelkowski off as a simple lunatic just yet. There are many questions unanswered, and his version may actually hold together better than what is presented as the “real” version of events.
What I want to know is, how did he find out about the apartment? He was coy about it when asked, and it was never explained. He didn’t know any of the tenants, they never advertised.
There was a time, not long ago, when cross-dressing of any sort, if not played for laughs, was a clear indicator of Psycho. Thankfully, those days are mostly past, or at least gone subtle. On the surface, The Tenant looks like one of these psycho-tranny films. The protagonist goes mad at about the same rate he goes female.
But it’s not quite the same. For one, he’s only dangerous to himself. For another, his outrage is always about being turned into someone else, never about being feminized. He shows no disgust or loathing at the idea of wearing a dress or heels or makeup. He is horrified that he seems to be turning into someone else against his will.
If the previous tenant had not been a woman, the story would change very little — as long as the previous tenant had a style, carriage or habit sufficiently distinct from Trelkowski’s that the transformation is strong and clear.
I try not to judge movies by the personal lives of their creators, and surely Polanski’s private life does not look good from what one reads in the papers. I am more interested in why he chose the main role for himself. Why he returned to the trilogy after nine years. Why he envisioned it at all?
And yet, like the mystery of why the tenants stand in the loo for hours, staring into space, some mysteries are better off staying mysterious.
Stay tuned for lighter fare with The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
This is Scix in the back row, and you’ll never turn me into Simone Choule!