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Review Knife in the Water (1962)


“KNIFE IN THE WATER” (1962)
By Roman Polanski | Poland
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Before the horrors of “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, Roman Polanski debuted his career with a quiet little drama that is just about as viscous as his latter works. At first glance, “Knife in the Water” seems estranged from Polanski’s usual forté. Shot like a French New-Wave film and acted stiffly like a scandinavian drama, the film seems to sink with the rest of its likes. But before you know it, Polanski rocks the boat and turn it into a spectacle of the egotism and pride with all the dangers they would bring; as our three main characters slowly boils down into creatures of that embodies said human natures.
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This is where the seeds of what Polanski would later be known for lies. It’s clear that the man has always been interested by how humans and their desires often leads to catastrophic results. Here, the consequences may not be as fatal as the child of a demon being brought to earth, but from the get go the film never has been potraying itself as something grand in nature. The lens become a microscope, focusing on three distinct individuals that shares a personal interaction. Thus the conflicts that sparks between them are exactly that: personal, even at times trivial, making it easy to write off the film as having no actual stakes because honestly, it doesn’t.
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For so long I waited for something to go extremely wrong. Whether one of them killed the other, or the boat sank, or a giant crocodile ate them all; but no, nothing happened. Because the film conflicts lies in simple knife games, stick grabbing, and wordplays instead. It lies in these mundane activities that incite competition, which values are only determined by its participants. Seeing it from the audiences perspective makes it seem pointless, but when put in the same situation, won’t we all fight to win these meaningless battles as well? Won’t our pride, lust, and all the other sins take over? It’s hard to deny that truth.
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“Knife in the Water” is a miniature of Polanski’s meditation of human character flaws. Seemingly meaningless and of no value, it critiques our nature through its subtlety. Like a knife hidden beneath water.

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