Rosemary's Baby: On-This-Day Thursday
Every Thursday, an older film released on this opening weekend years ago will be reviewed. They can be classics, or simply popular films that happened to be released to the world on the same date.
For June 12th, we are going to have a look at Rosemary’s Baby.
After appealing to psychological horror fiends with Repulsion, Roman Polanski was well on his way towards being the new king of the genre. American audiences were first getting to know him. His work was special, because he knew how to let surreal images scare you with how they lingered, and not how they popped. This was about being a part of a hallucination, without the ability to question whether or not you saw what you believed you saw. Horror films that rub your nose in frightening imagery are bold. They don't allow for illusions to make you think twice. You can analyze every special effect and audible cue. This is when horror really hits. You've exhausted all options, and what you are witnessing can only be what you perceive it to be. The hallway of hands in Repulsion is a worst nightmare. It's vulnerability. It's facing it all very slowly.
Rosemary's Baby was made, perhaps as a response to the American nuclear family. Everyone dreams about finding that place together, and expanding your family. You're told everyone dreams of this, anyway. In 2019, this is a bit of a different story. In 2019, we still acknowledge having to start small. Getting a place to live and having a child are tall orders now. Imagine if you had to go the extra mile and Rosemary's Baby still came true? There really is no turning back at that point. Well, it still feels like Polanski is speaking to our crowd all the way back in the '60s, because he was likely talking to the working class that still had to struggle to some degree to get by.
The Woodhouses are in love, and are happy just getting by. They have a new apartment, some lovely elderly neighbours, and their lives ahead of them. A sudden death occurs, and it is almost brushed off in the most absurd way (the cold response by the police officer announcing the dreadful news is an indication that we are going down some frigid roads ahead).
I keep remarking on how it is 2019, but time and place are so important for Rosemary's Baby. Chances are you know the big twist by now. It's up there with Darth Vader, Citizen Kane and The Sixth Sense when it comes to spread around spoilers. The film's name is a term used now to describe a similarity between a real occurrence and the story. It's too bad, because the build up to that twist is a nauseating guessing game. Is this what I think it is? It sadly is.
I was first exposed to this film by a high school teacher, who described the film as "a woman who gives birth to the devil". I was under the impression that this is the main premise, and we see how this ghastly responsibility unfolds. Nope. This is the revelation at the end. Well, it truly is too late to even attempt to hide this secret (is it even a secret anymore?). Nonetheless, I was transfixed. As a horror fanatical teenager (Audition, Cannibal Holocaust, and Hellraiser were my go-tos), this felt different. It wasn't the age. It was the story telling. So what if we knew that Rosemary Woodhouse births the antichrist against her will? The trip to that conclusion isn't any less difficult. The entire film is still a complete devastation. The happiest time in a mother's life has been turned into a shocking twisting of fates.
What I love is how much of the film's breadcrumb path is full of misinformations. These aren't red herrings that put Rosemary down the wrong road. They're just societal stigmas that still lead her to where she needs to go. Rosemary fears that her husband is being seduced by local witches, and that these witches are placing a curse on her. It had nothing to do with witchcraft at the end of the day. The curse was a possession. The cult was a satanic congregation. The witches were actually the willing children of Lucifer. That's another reason why the film bites so viciously, even if you know the climax. That extra leap towards the unthinkable (and further away from comfortable societal norms) is the one that goes over the line. Your hand was held, and this is the very point it gets let go. It's enough of a drop to hurt.
Then we see Rosemary's first reaction to her child. There's no joy. There's only the widening of a glance and the dropping of a hand cloaked jaw. She screams about the baby's eyes, only to find that's how they naturally are. We see nothing. we only get a slight superimposition of a demonic stare. This is a rare time where Polanski forces you to fill in the blanks, but our minds are racing at this point. We can only conjure up the worst. It's a clever tactic indeed.
What really sticks out is how Minnie Castevet tries to rub away a scratch in her floor, left by a fallen knife. These aren't stereotypical villains, but everyday people who think what they are doing is right. The entire film becomes a photo album that leads up to the joy of a satanic fellowship, and the misery of the mother. Krzysztof Komeda's score is a creepy lullaby that almost sounds like it's mocking Rosemary. Lullabies are meant to soothe a child to sleep. This one is a painful reminder that this is Rosemary's life from now on. The final tidbit that makes this score truly haunting, is that Mia Farrow is the iconic voice here. She is virtually taunting herself. This was preventable, and she had such a long time to stop it all. But she didn't. She cursed herself.
What do we learn from all of this? The American Dream of one may not be the same as another, even including your life partner. In fact, forget about the American Dream (even though Rosemary's Baby is clearly referencing it). This is about ambitions. What Guy Woodhouse was doing was what he thought was the right thing to do. He puts his wife in harm's way to try and be a good guy in his own narrative. This is the separation of two lovers because of differing aspirations. When it's but that way, Rosemary's Baby is almost sickening. Guy had his wife taken advantage of by the literal devil, and made her ill just to house the spawn of Satan. That didn't matter. He felt like he was fulfilling a good deed to better society and himself. It's highly disturbing.
It's also hard to not at least bring up the few ways that this film became infamously known as a cursed film. Producer William Castle recieved so many negative responses via mail, he generated kidney stones out of stress (to the point of having to be hospitalized). Komeda died after messing around at a party (but only after a four month comatose state), which is sadly very similar to one of the deaths in the film.
We finally can't forget about Sharon Tate being targeted by the Manson Family, as they were taught that she was bearing child the same way Rosemary was. 2019 marks the 50th year since Tate, her child-to-be, and a number of her friends, were taken away from us due to hysteria. One death was a coincidence. One sickness was caused by backlash. A notorious massacre was the result of psychopathic brainwashing. These three elements were ones Polanski utilized in this controversial film, and they followed after the release. Rosemary's Baby is now a major timestamp in the history of American pop culture. It fed on the kinds of dreads and fears that were present, and became linked to a few real life examples. Evil is not mortal. It's what we see in the film, and in reality. There luckily aren't many films that have this kind of zeitgeist, because one damned creation that can be grossly misinterpreted and misused is enough.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.