Roman Polanski's 1968 film Rosemary's Baby remains to this day, a horror film that 'you just need to see'. Filled with a storyline capable of enticing even the likes of todays cinematically numb audiences, and symbolism bold enough to interest the deepest of theorists.
|Fig 1: Rosemary's Baby, Movie Poster|
The film follows the story of Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), a young American woman who is taking the next step in her relationship with her husband Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) by moving into a new apartment. Almost as soon as the couple have stepped across the threshold they became aware of the nosey neighbours upstairs presence, namely Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer). The old couple soon become integral parts of the newly moved in lovebirds lives, inviting them to dinner, offering to help out moving furniture and in the eyes of Rosemary, becoming all too involved. Not long after officially becoming residents of The Bradford, the Woodhouse couple decide to try for a baby, a baby that will soon become the basis of an extremely demonic plot. Rosemary's Baby now begins to take a darker turn, showcasing just why the film has gone on to be known as a classic within the horror genre, as the consumption of the Woodhouse baby is by no means regular. Just as the couple announce that they are going to be trying for a baby, the interfering old Castevet couple begin to show further signs of interest in the brooding relationship just down the hall, sending them strangely specific edible treats that send Rosemary into a strange dream like trance, a trance which essentially sees the poor victim being impregnated by an incarnation of the hell dweller himself, the devil. Just like most couples attempting to start a family, Rosemary's pregnancy is warmly welcomed by all, and the Castevets and their entourage of spooky associates begin to play a huge role in the caring of Rosemary, offering the attention of the best doctor in town, supplying health supplements and showering the expecting mother with accessories and items to help progress the pregnancy. However even with all this doctors advice, Rosemary takes ill, potentially endangering the baby and ultimately leading her into a state of doubt, questioning the advice and treatment she has been accepting from all the helping hands around her. The death of old friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) leads Rosemary in the direction of Witchcraft, something the desperate woman soon becomes obsessed with. This unhealthy obsession soon attracts the attention of Mr Woodhouse and the Castevet recommended Doctor Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy) and sends Rosemary into a state of sedation. Once Rosemary wakes with her chemical restraint she soon becomes aware that she is no longer carrying a child, and is under the impression that the baby was lost during its delivery. Now in a most Suspiria like fashion, Rosemary sneaks through her apartment, leading to the discovery of the secret door within the cluttered broom cupboard with leads expectedly into an apartment flush with blasphemous paintings and satanic decorations, which as Ebert puts it "works not because it is a surprise but because it is horrifyingly inevitable" (Ebert, 1968). Finally, in one of the most gripping climax sequences within the horror genre, the new mother is greeted by the satanic cult she has feared for the duration of her gestation period, along with the unexpected addition of the new father and is presented with the satanic creation that has been brewing within her womb since day 1, a creation which Rosemary seems to ultimately accept.
|Fig 2: Rosemary's Baby, Screenshot|
Throughout the duration of Rosemary's Baby, the film is littered with subtle symbolism for the more 'attention to detail' type viewers, frequently suggesting different angles to perceive the story from and different messages to take from Polanski's creation. So much so that it has been described as "a horror movie in which the malevolence of Satan is eclipsed by the maliciousness of a woman's right to choose being violated" (Henderson, 2013). One common theme which seems to stay current throughout the entirety of the film is the presence of the colour yellow. This undecided shade is consistently flooded amongst the scenes of the film, whether it be in passing cabs on the street or the sheets on Rosemary's bed, the colour yellow is something the director wanted an audience to pick up on. Its extremely relevant to note that this particular colour is a look expecting couples often choose to decorate the new baby's room with when the sex is unknown, this idea suggests that Polanski was aiming for the audience to stay undecided on the fate of our female lead and to stay unsure as to whether Rosemary is correct in thinking that the health issues she is facing is down to witches or if the mind set of the expecting mother is due to extreme paranoia. Its worth noting that if the director had chosen to flood scenes with colour red, Rosemary's fascination with witchcraft may have been more acceptable to an audience, respectively if there were more shots which highlighted a more passive colour like a light blue, viewers have been inclined to think that this obsession was purely paranoia and that the root of Rosemary's problems lay comfortably next to a reasonable explanation. Another strong piece of symbolism or possible foreshadowing is the sudden mention of a heat wave amongst the city, which all takes place once Rosemary has delivered her satanic offspring, possibly hinting at the idea of hells flames burning brighter now that the devils successor is present amongst the cast of Rosemary's Baby.
Throughout the film, the worldwide issue of equality is touched upon a number of times, or more the lack of. This idea becomes extremely apparent after Rosemary announces her pregnancy, and the possession of the baby almost becomes up for grabs amongst the residents of Bradford and their Satan worshipping comrades, an issue that could of potentially been apparent in the times the film was made as women were just beginning to achieve equal rights. This idea of inequality and men having the ultimate say in a woman's life are consistently apparent in Rosemary's Baby and Rosemary's husband is a prime manifestation of this issue as it is him that essentially sells his wives baby to the Devil worshipers in return for an ounce of fame. Throughout the film there are a number of different physical representations used to convey issues, including the use of the Castevet couple to suggest the notion of out of date views and ideals still having a firm grasp on modern society and more importantly, modern women.
|Fig 3: Rosemary's Baby, Screenshot|
As the 1960's served as a huge period for the rise in equality for women, it is only normal to assume that these issues would of been addressed by the times creative individuals, Mr Polanski being one of them. The 1960's played host to second wave feminism, a time that " Touched on every area of women’s experience—including family, sexuality, and work" (Burkett, 2015), something that is also arguably noted in Rosemary's Baby. The presence of this movement within the film could be seen in a number of different moments, through the smallest hints such as Rosemary getting a shorter haircut than women of that time would of been expected to have, to much bigger symbolic mentions such as the delivery of a baby that is said to bring a new way of life upon the world. The arrival of the Woodhouse baby could be seen in a number of different ways, possibly as the arrival of a new wave that a society set in extremely old fashioned ways would have feared. Or possibly as the release of these old ways, suggesting that the reason the satanic cult are all 'over 70', as Rosemary puts it, is to show the only members of society still interested in these prehistoric views are the people who were brought up on these ideas and refuse to adapt to new ways of life. Another possible way of perceiving the arrival of this Omen like child, would be to see the plot as Polanski's way of illustrating the fear many members of society would have been dealing with as they saw this new wave of feminism being more apparent in every day life. As this era was known to hold extreme protests and riots, it wouldn't be unthinkable to assume that many members of a modern community would have been living in fear of the influences these radical movements would be having on their lives, which ultimately suggests that Polanski was asking an audience to see the Woodhouse baby as a physical representation of second wave feminism.
No matter which way you choose to view Rosemary's Baby, there is no question that the film holds something of extreme value to many different members of the ever growing 'cinema lovers fan club'. Whether it be the classic thrills of this beautifully depicted horror story that attracts a film lover, or the more serious issues Polanski's creation possibly tackles on an integral level, one thing remains certain, Rosemary's Baby is a classic through and through.
Burkett, Elinor, 2015, Women's Movement, http://www.britannica.com/topic/womens-movement, Accessed on 08/03/16
Ebert, Roger, 1968, Rosemary's Baby, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/rosemarys-baby-1968, Accessed on: 08/03/16
Henderson, Eric, 2013, Rosemary's Baby, http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/rosemarys-baby, Accessed on: 08/03/16
Fig 1: Movie Poster, Rosemary's Baby, https://uk.movieposter.com/poster/MPW-36630/Rosemary_s_Baby.html, Accessed on: 08/03/16
Fig 2: Screenshot, Rosemary's Baby, http://www.nitehawkcinema.com/2013/10/10-things-rosemarys-baby/, Accessed on: 08/03/16
Fig 3: Screenshot, Rosemary's Baby, https://vinnieh.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/rosemarys-baby/, Accessed on: 08/03/16