The Tenant: Reading Response

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Katazyna Marcianiak’s Interpretation of “The Tenant”

Katazyna Marcianiak (2000) uses the physical body as a symbolic depiction of one's existential identity in her interpretation of Roman Polanski's film "The Tenant". It takes an art-cinema narrative that depicts Monsieur Trelkovsky's account of entering a room where the previous occupant, Egyptologist Simone Choule, committed suicide. He then pays a visit to Choule in the hospital, when he runs across Stella, Simone's friend, who has also gone to see her. Simone, who is in serious condition, becomes disturbed as a result of seeing them, and dies seconds later with a terrible yell. From then on, Trelkovsky becomes puzzled and Simone's haunting eventually transforms him into 'her.' In the long run, he throws himself out of the window just like Choule and makes the same agonizing scream before his death.

The Significance of Cross-Dressing and the Destruction of Personal Identity

This paper concurs with the view of Marciniak that the film represents a situation where the physical body is used in alteration of the physical identity to construct a new identity in itself. It points out the significance of cross-dressing within the contexts and the progressive destruction of personal identity.

Gender, Identity, and Clothing as Symbols

Marcianiak tends to visualize a link between gender and identity, and explores the possibility of the construction of one's own sex. Importantly, her visualization of the physicality in describing the physical markers of gender interlinks with the society's perceptions of women. Trelkovsky's transformation represents the fragility and mutability of the body. He appears as a man who is constantly preoccupied with his identity and physical self. This demonstrates his gratuitous deliberation of his own body and the despicable and apprehensive air he gives this physical locus for his existential self. Clothing is constantly utilised as a façade to signify an identity; however, the author fails to go in-depth regarding clothing as an important symbol of gender and identity within the film. It is interesting to note how the film permeates the notion of abuse within the society. The tenant's neighbours were a constant distraction to the tenant and the former inhabitant of the house. This theme can also be viewed from Polansky's Repulsion, where the director incorporates acts of ultimate abuse of identity that leads to a disturbing ending similar to that of the tenant.

Abjection and Identity

Kristeva (1982) also touches on the issue of the unclean within the society. In her book "Approaching Abjection", she asserts that "It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order" (4). The author goes on and asserts that the denial of morality can therefore be abject and this can ultimately stab one. He theory that the one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places divides, positions, and therefore wanders himself away instead of getting his comportments, desires, place, or repudiating. This corresponds to Marcianiak's hypothesis that Trelkovsky's uniqueness -immoral in nature - led to his ultimate disintegration as showcased within the film. His uncanny scream within the end is represented by Marcianiak as a requirement natural precedence; it creates upon the audience the notion of insanity because of the desire to become a woman.

The Fusion of Gender and Identity

Overall, my analysis of Marcianiak's argument leads to the conclusion that gender and identity are indeed fused concepts in Polansky's work. Her view of the society viewing as abject anything that does not conform to their "normal" is substantiated by Kristeva's argument of abjection. The film was based on an example of the defiance of the community's common perceptions and the death of the protagonist in the long-run shows the precedence of societal values in determining individual identity.


Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Assay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Marciniak, Katarzyna. "Cinematic Exile: Performing the Foreign Body on Screen in Roman Polanski's The Tenant." Camera Obscura 15.1 (2000).

April 06, 2023


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