"Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
Genre: Classics, Horror, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Roman Polanski
Written By: Roman Polanski
Released: June 12th, 1968
Runtime: 136 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Directed by Roman Polanski: Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) Woodhouse move into an apartment despite several warnings about the building. Following the suicide of a girl staying in their building, they befriend an older couple, Roman and Minnie Castevet, with whom the girl was staying. Guy seems to form a very close bond with the couple, much to Rosemary’s disgruntlement. However, following a strange dream in which she is raped by an odd looking creature, Rosemary is elated to discover she is pregnant. The neighbours rally round but Rosemary soon becomes suspicious of their controlling behaviour and fears for the safety of her unborn baby. The film is based on Ira Levin’s novel of the same name.
I watched this film years ago and re-watched it again recently. I forgot how good it was. Within the first 10-15 minutes I was pleasantly becoming absorbed in the story. It’s a classic horror film. After all, its antichrist theme has influenced a number of subsequent iconic horror films such as The Omen and The Exorcist. My only advice would be not to make any judgements based on the trailer! It honestly does nothing for it. Just go for it!
I feel like this is a really special kind of psychological horror. Honestly, they just don’t make them like this anymore and I actually find it really sad. Nowadays the story is cheap and the scares are ‘easy’ and very much in your face. You can guess almost immediately when to expect a fright and many of them rely on you watching the film in the dark. This film is extremely subtle, and extremely well crafted (I cannot stress this enough) and I have every confidence in it scaring you just as effectively in broad day light. I think it’s Polanski’s use of the power of suggestion throughout each scene. I found myself squeezing the bed sheets in unsettled anticipation numerous times throughout the film despite there being very few specific scary moments. The film is like a puzzle you are constantly finding new pieces for but never fully able to complete until the film’s climax. What’s more, you never actually ever see the film’s namesake!
Ironically enough, much of the harrowing aspects of the film don’t actually come from the supernatural details of the plot. I actually think if you were to take the whole ‘witches and Satan-worship’ alone, they are not going to scare you – well, nowadays at least because to be fair the notions are quite far-fetched and unrealistic. It’s the particular situations and manner with which Rosemary is treated by others that makes the film disturbing for the audience. The rest just falls into place thusly. She is such a biddable and even naïve character, unwittingly allowing herself to be controlled by her husband and her neighbours. It’s frightening the things she deems acceptable and how far she will go before realising enough is enough and actually take a stand.
One such scene is after the “dream sequence” when Rosemary wakes up from a dream in which she was raped. The couple had decided earlier that day they would try for a baby that night, but after eating some chocolate mousse desert the neighbours had given them, Rosemary falls unconscious. She wakes the following morning to realise she is naked with scratches along her shoulder and her husband tells her he had sex with her while she was still unconscious declaring he “didn’t want to miss baby night”. The fact that he deems this an acceptable lie to hide what really happened, the fact that he doesn’t act apologetic about raping his passed-out wife, and the fact that she doesn’t fight him on it are all horrifying.
The moment she is eating the chocolate mousse is also a good example. Rosemary clearly doesn’t want to eat it, declaring it has a “chalky under-taste” but Guy effectively bullies his wife into finishing it, telling her she’s imagining the under-taste before insisting she’s being rude, then he accuses her of simply being difficult and that there is always something. Rather than arguing with him, Rosemary sends him away to do something and spills the desert into a napkin.
Rosemary also goes along with her neighbours’ controlling behaviour; she drinks the “herbal drink” Minnie and Roman prepare for her every day, she goes to the Dr they tell her to go to despite preferring to go to her own, and she then goes along with his hideous advice of not reading books and not to listen to her friends. Rosemary is in constant and terrible pain for the first 3 months yet is told that this is normal. When she eventually does show some act of rebellion and throws a party to have her friends assess her situation and get a second opinion, they are horrified to see how thin and pale she has become. They tell her that “pain like that is a warning that something isn’t right”. This scene, in which the girls barricade themselves into Rosemary’s kitchen to speak with her without interruption, is a really big moment in the film. The relief on Rosemary’s face to know that her concerns are not ridiculous, mixed with the fear that something actually might be wrong, is quite sad.
The dream sequence is probably the most harrowing scene in the movie, but again, it’s not on account of its supernatural embellishments. I reckon you could have the exact same scenario take place in any other genre under any other predicament and it would be equally as horrifying. Needless to say, really. Rosemary is effectively undressed, by Guy, and made to lie up on a big mattress with her legs and arms tied to it, and while in the presence of all her neighbours and husband (who are also all naked, and chanting), she is raped by, well, some form of the devil. The whole surrealistic feel created from the moment the dream begins is quite unsettling and eerie. In short, the objective of the whole story is basically to bring Satan into the world in the form of a baby. The cult (the witches/the neighbours) makes a deal with Guy to coerce his wife into bearing Satan’s child. It’s like the Anti-Christmas story!!!! (Also, her name is Rose-mary...get it?!) Knowing this I think makes this scene more harrowing to think Guy effectively pimped out his own wife for the better of his own acting career. I don’t think this is really a spoiler for those who haven’t seen it since everything is effectively in front of you from the word go, it’s just you are reluctant to believe it until the pieces are fitted together in front of you! The music, and in places lack of, is really creepy too in this scene too actually. Because of the context/nature of the scene I would nearly deem it one of the more harrowing scenes of any horror movie. It’s one that will certainly stay with you for a long time. There’s no point beating about the bush, it is horrible.
I got the impression that Rosemary very much lives in her own dream-state, if you will. She is extremely optimistic in her view of the world but this also makes her naïve. She is sure that things will be alright. When she goes running to the doctor of her choice for help, she completely expects him to believe her story of witches and plotting against herself and her unborn baby. She seems to completely assume too that, despite previous evidence to say otherwise, Guy will put her needs above his own and love her and their baby when it arrives.
Broken down, I think really this film is about taking control of your own life, learning to make decisions comfortably for yourself, and to trust your own intuitions. This is Rosemary’s challenge throughout the whole film, the things she struggles with most. I think this is something that’s very important for people today, or indeed any era. In so many ways this film could arguably be deemed ahead of its time. Certainly, it’s proven far more sophisticated than many of the horror films today. It scares you and unsettles you in such a way that is so subtle its genius.
Mia Farrow’s acting really struck me in this film. She’s fantastic. I wasn’t really expecting much from the actors when I watched the trailer but as I say, within the first 10-15 minutes I was pleasantly surprised and taken in by them. I really liked Rosemary and Guy’s relationship up until they met the neighbours. I also think Mia Farrow was really pretty with the longer hair. Rosemary cuts her hair at some point during the film and Guy actually points out to her it was "the worst mistake she ever made" - which is charming! I wouldn't say it was that bad and I felt really annoyed when he said it because I felt like no wonder she's so submissive and slow to trust her own intuition - she can't even cut her own hair without being criticised about it.
One character I haven’t really talked about properly which I feel I should is Minnie Castevet. She frustrated me so much, she was just so domineering but in a busy-body, nosy, unwitting kind of way. She effectively forced herself into their lives much to Rosemary’s consternation. Her actress, Ruth Gordon is really something. She really owns every scene she’s in and well deserved her Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. There is something sinisterly comedic about the character, and ambiguous. She creates suspicion after suspicion in each scene we see her in, adding to the overall and subtly achieved tension.
Arguably, there are aspects of the film that could be considered cheesy nowadays. For example the appearance of the devil in the dream sequence, and even the whole idea of witches but I think these can and should be excused. It was made 47 years ago so obviously some things are going to feel a little dated but considering that’s how long ago it was made makes it an even more remarkable film. It’s actually hard to believe it was that long ago.
The only thing I couldn’t figure out was why it necessarily had to be Rosemary who bore Satan. Why not one of the people already in the cult? But thinking about it I wonder if they broached the possibility with the girl who died and that was why she committed suicide in the beginning, and then Rosemary was just the next healthy young woman to come along naïve enough to coerce. She wanted a baby, they wanted someone who could have a baby…Rosemary and Guy were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time…so to speak…But I also couldn’t understand just how caught up in the whole thing Guy got. I mean…he’s not a stupid person, how did they brain wash him quite that much, and so suddenly? In a way he’s kind of naïve himself to think he could go along with them, do what they asked, his career would be great, Rosemary would be fine after the ordeal, things would go back to normal eventually and maybe they might even have another baby – properly this time!! I find it hard to accept that he could be that naïve to not consider the consequences of what he was doing…This isn't a criticism of the film, just my own observation!!
In any case I must say I was really impressed with this movie, a lot more than I initially expected to be. This is definitely one of the better horror films I’ve seen (despite my love of getting a fright, which was the only thing this film lacked but more than makes up for in storytelling) As I say they just don’t make them like this anymore. Definitely, this is one to watch.