Paramount Pictures | Release Date: June 25, 1976
8.5
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Universal acclaim based on 30 Ratings
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SpangleMar 6, 2017
The third entry into director Roman Polanski's Apartment Trilogy, The Tenant further explores paranoia alongside Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. Dripping with paranoia from the very beginning, the film stars Polanski as Monsieur Trelkovsky, aThe third entry into director Roman Polanski's Apartment Trilogy, The Tenant further explores paranoia alongside Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. Dripping with paranoia from the very beginning, the film stars Polanski as Monsieur Trelkovsky, a man who moves into the apartment of a woman who just killed herself. After becoming obsessed with her, he visits her in the hospital (before she finally died) and slowly begins to take over her life. Ordering the same drink at a restaurant, smoking the same cigarettes, hanging out with her old friends, wearing make-up, and dressing like a woman, he slowly becomes Simone. Even worse, he has visions of the fellow tenants trying to kill him and nightmares regarding weird occurrences around the complex. Tense, frightening, and a film that truly messes with your mind, The Tenant is a slow burn psychological thriller that is tensely directed and tightly wound.

Initially criticized and called "embarrassing" by critics such as Roger Ebert, public opinion of The Tenant has certainly changed over time. Smartly plotted, the film is incredibly tight and never wastes a scene. Roman Polanski's tense direction really keeps everything focused on Trelkovsky losing his mind and the various elements that go into his paranoia. This is certainly bolstered by Polanski's direction that adds to this atmospheric and hypnotic nature of the film, which really hangs over the proceedings akin to Rosemary's Baby. It largely lacks visceral scares instead of this atmosphere that Polanski cultivates through hard earned tension and fear, never taking the easy way out in crafting this psychological thriller. This is really what makes it so effective. Throughout, you are convinced everyone wants to kill this man. The tenants are neurotic over noise and certainly quite unconventional. The fact that they could be trying to drive him to suicide is not unbelievable, no matter how odd it seems. But, slowly but surely, we realize that Trelkovsky is an incredibly unreliable narrator who is either insane before he gets the apartment or afterwards. Regardless, his paranoia feels legitimate initially before the film devolves into an exploration of this man's deeply messed up mind.

This paranoia is the overwhelming theme of the film, as well as claustrophobia as in Repulsion. Though Trelkovsky does manage to leave the room, he does still feel trapped in the room and unable to breathe in this small two room apartment. Any noise he makes gets criticized by his neighbors, no matter how loud. He is unable to maneuver and is essentially trapped in a prison of his own making, both the room and his mind. The film further explores themes of the self with Trelkovsky openly wondering when a person stops being themselves. Is it if they lose their arms? Their legs? Their head? Why does the brain define itself as being "me", when the other items are just as much a part of you as anything else. The film explores this particularly towards the end when he loses his mind. Is he still Trelkovsky or is he Simone? He acts like Simone and dresses like her, so is he her? He is afraid he is becoming Simone and is being slowly driven to suicide like he imagines her to have been. Thus, there is a great crisis of the self on display in the film where he constantly tries to identify who he is and what he is doing, as what is happening to him. But, his brain is incredibly ill and he is unable to pin down who he is and what is occurring. This confusion and paranoia is perfectly portrayed by Polanski as an actor. This man's trauma and turmoil is incredibly believable and hard to watch, as you see him be driven to insanity and to the brink of life and death.

Impeccably nimble at messing with the audience's mind, The Tenant is a terrific psychological thriller from director Roman Polanski that features a good performance from himself in the lead role and also demonstrates his skill as a director. Easily creating paranoia and claustrophobia, the film rapidly draws you in and is an excellent usage of an unreliable narrator to effectively creep out the audience and confuse them throughout. This is a film that is always three or four steps ahead and forces the audience to keep up as Polanski introduces more and more surreal elements that truly mess with your mind.
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