This film is filled with messages from its very beginning. It starts out with a huge close-up of the star's eye and ends the same way by focusing in on a family portrait until you only see the eye of the child. Polansky wants you to "see" ..to fully see, to see as you have never seen before. To look around you at the wondrous world in which you live and to appreciate all of its beauty and pain.
The first words of the movie are: "Have you fallen asleep?" Carole, the manicurist, is not asleep, she just is not present, she is lost in her own internal world. Polansky is asking you, the audience, "Have you fallen asleep?"
Details, details, details, the film is alive with important details.
"God is in the details." Meis van der Rohe.
Chico Hamilton did the music for the movie and you are treated to a bouncy jazz tune as Carole walks along the streets of London, one of the world's greatest cities, a city alive with energy---but she is not connected to any of this energy, she is more dead than alive.
Polansky is saying that we have choices. The three street musicians, two playing spoons and one playing a banjo, are wandering through the streets, through the film, ragged and poor, but still playing joyful tunes. No matter how harsh life is, you are offered choices. You can give into your pain, you can go inward to the depths of despair, or you can get involved. The apartment she lives in is next to the convent. The women there are isolated, not part of this world, but they are still happy and alive. Life is not about material things; it is not about polishing your nails and fixing your hair, because even the cloistered sisters are joyous. It is about being involved with life, with others, with work (Carole has no meaningful work---as her boss said, "Put this on, she'll never know the difference"---it makes no difference what nail polish is used.) Carole has no meaningful involvements. She finds her boyfriend repugnant and wipes his kiss off her lips.
Carole has been a troubled person ever since she was a child as the family portrait reveals---she is detached, looking away. She is schizophrenic and at the end is catatonic. But, the elements that have triggered the hallucinations, the murders, are the same elements that weaken us all and make us all susceptible to stress---her diet is a disaster, she is not getting any sleep, she loses the support from her sister, she is alone and becomes progressively withdrawn. As her sister is about to leave with the boyfriend for a trip to Piza, Italy (where the tower is off center, leaning, appearing ready to fall), she says to Carole: "Don't worry, the time will pass quickly." But the hours are endless, the days disappear in a fearful room of hallucinations---cracking walls, hands that come out of the walls, and a sinister rapist that visits her bed at night. No wonder, then, when men appear, she kills them. Are they real to her? Are they part of her hallucinations, something to fear, something rather than someone?
Time only passes quickly for those involved joyfully in life. When you are not involved, time drags endlessly.
Carole does not know how to relate to men. She resents her sister's boyfriend and stays up late into the night listening to her sister's orgasm. She does not want to have anything to do with men, yet her hallucinations are very sexually oriented. Polansky is talking about himself here, his own ambivalence, but, it is also the ambivalence of us all. We want love. We desperately need love. We will die without love. Yet, we fear love. To love is to be vulnerable. To love is to give up some of our power. Carole is unable to find a way of coping with these ambivalences. Polansky in his life has repeatedly and often unsuccessfully struggled with these ambivalences.
In order to be successful with loving God, loving work, loving ideas, loving others, you first have to NOT need that love. Yes, you want to love and be loved. But, you need to first be strong, to know yourself, to love yourself, in order to have the ability to overcome the ambivalence and love another fully, joyfully. Carole does not have that level of strength, the depth of self-understanding.
The challenge of this movie to you, the audience, is for you to approach life in ways that are healthy---regular exercise, a balanced diet, dealing with stressors effectively, but, also learning about yourself so that you bring to any adventure in life a balance and strength that makes it possible for you to love and be connected to all of what life has to offer.