A young couple move into an apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
- Polanski's direction is both precise when it needs to be, and chaotic when called for - Lane
- I always wanted to know what was going to happen next and what each character was up to - Bryan
- I think the final scene blows it - Jon
1960: The FDA approves the first oral contraception for sale in the US.
1963: The Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President Kennedy.
1965: The Supreme Court strikes down laws in Connecticut that restrict access to birth control for married couples.
1968: The first feature length major studio film of a woman's struggle to continue her difficult pregnancy is brought to theaters all over the nation - twist: her struggle is heightened because the baby is Satan. That's a tough choice.
What a decade for women!
While “Rosemary’s Baby” is a film firmly established in the annals of the horror genre, it is as much a film about women, couples, children, and culture as anything else. You can tell a lot about the prevailing fears of a nation by the kinds of scary movies it watches, and “Rosemary’s Baby,” followed by films like “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” all the way to “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” show that during the second half of the twentieth century America was really terrified of their children. And not without cause. Kids did some weird things in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and '80's. Like sex and drugs and feminism. In horror films of the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s, the parents often abandoned their kids to summer camps (“Friday the 13th”) or for nights out on the town (“Halloween”), but in “Rosemary’s Baby,” like “Psycho” before it, the fear is still firmly centered on the family unit and the support structures (or lack of) surrounding it.
As the film opens we find Rosemary and Guy renting an apartment they can barely afford in an old, scary looking building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (The Dakota building, which is where John Lennon lived and was murdered). They are clearly on the fast track in New York society and all Guy needs are a few breaks in the theater world for them to be on their way. They have the normal anxieties of young married people. Is now the right time to start a family? Will we make it in our careers? Can we balance the demands of family and making a living?
Enter the kindly, odd elderly couple next door – the Castavets – who befriend the young couple and seek to help them, though their motivations might be suspect. At this point, we could be watching a comedy, but we get the sense of something wrong. The Castavets’ ward, Terry, commits suicide; also there are just odd things about them – a lack of pictures on the wall; strange stories; weird music through the shared wall; a fondness for herbs; the taste of their chocolate mousse.
It’s pretty early in the film when we, the audience, get a glimpse of who these people might really be: friends of the dark lord himself. However, the genius of the film is in the fact that we don’t really know. Up until the very end, we are left to guess as to whether we are watching the psychological breakdown of an overstressed woman suffering through a difficult pregnancy, or whether this is truly some demonic cult that has managed to abduct this young woman's womb. The film wonderfully plays with the notion that the giving and taking of life can be both wonderful and terrifying. It can break a person down. Child bearing can break a relationship down. Reality gets stretched; boundaries get crossed. And we see what men for generations have felt deep down: pregnant women are scary!
We may be a little too far removed from the cultural milieu to fully get the film’s commentary, humor, and pathos, though most of it still plays well almost 50 years later, probably because so many of the themes are timeless. The film mocks society people; it flirts with the fears of secularism and institutional decline (side note: the God is Dead movement, which is mentioned a few times in the film and made famous by the Time magazine cover that Rosemary finds at Dr. Sapirstein’s office, held it’s theological home base for quite a few years at Blair and Shane’s esteemed alma mater, Emory University, much to the chagrin of the Methodists who funded it); and in the end, Guy admits it's all about the Faustian bargain that humanity has always pondered: “would I give up my soul to the devil if I could be rich, famous, and powerful?” Don’t lie; you’ve thought about it.
A few other side notes: Mia Farrow is great; Polanski’s directing is both precise when it needs to be, and chaotic when called for. Ruth Gordon’s performance of Minnie Castavet seemed over the top at first, but halfway through I realized it hit the mark it needed to hit – for introverts and young married couples, having to spend an evening at a dinner party with those people would seem almost as terrifying as birthing Satan.
It’s not bump in the night horror, but it’s not supposed to be, and a lot of genre films stand on this one’s shoulders.
Initial Review by Lane