Thursday, 9 December 2010

Film Review: The Tenant

The third film we watched from the ‘Unhomely’ film programme was The Tenant, which was directed by Roman Polanski and was released in 1976.

Fig. 1 The Tenant Poster

An interesting and rather odd film to watch, The Tenant is another of Roman Polanski's classic horror films. However this isn't the kind of horror film you would usually expect to find, and in fact it's not a particularly horrific film but rather a disturbing film that plays on the paranoia of identity. Steve Biodrowski states: 

"THE TENANT is short on typical horror movie action: there are no monsters, and there is little in the way of traditional suspense. That’s because the film is not operating on the kind of fear that most horror films exploit: fear of death. Instead, THE TENANT’s focus is on an equally disturbing fear: loss of identity." (Biodrowski, 2009)

As stated before, this film plays with the paranoia of identity and as the film progresses it is revealed to us that the character Trelkovsky is beginning to relate his identity to that of the women that previously owned the apartment before committing suicide. Unfortunately though this spoils the ending in which Trelkovsky sure enough reenacts many of woman's habits before falling prey to the same act in which she died.

The cause for the eventually suicide attempts is evident and honestly I can see why Trelkovsky would have been pushed to this point. As with Polanski's 1968 Rosemary's Baby the neighbours are somewhat to blame which further reinforces his ability to identify with the female tenant. Kim Newman writes:

"Trelkovsky is either subtly bullied by his neighbours or succumbs to extreme paranoia, and gradually comes more and more to identify with Simone." (Newman, -)

This subtle bullying is pretty much living with the neighbours from hell. The ones that complain about noise, or having guests over. And we've all had them or know someone who does and Polanski exploits this in a way that keeps the main character identifying with the female tenant.

But one of the most prominent scenes of this film has got to be the bathroom scenes. If there is any element of fear or discomfort shown in this film it would have to be this. As Roger Ebert describes it:

"And it has a haunted bathroom; every time Polanski looks in through the bathroom window (which he does quite frequently, come to think of it) there's someone standing there motionless, looking straight back at him." (Ebert, 1976)

What is more chilling than to look into a mirror and not see your own reflection but rather of what could just as well be a mannequin with creepy eyes. These scenes really do give that sense that Trelkovsky is under constant watch, that someone could be spying on him. but who is watching him is another question. These motionless people could just be figments of his imagination or even his growing paranoia but it is never explained.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1 Polanski, Roman (1976) The Tenant Poster. At:
(Accessed on 09.12.10)


Biodrowski, Steve (2009) The Tenant. At:
(Accessed on 09.12.10)

Newman, Kim (-) The Tenant. At:

(Accessed on 09.12.10)

Ebert, Roger (1976) The Tenant. At:

(Accessed on 09.12.10)

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