60 Second Movie Review: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
May 31, 2012 15 Comments
Rosemary’s Baby is a film I’d never seen before. (And if you haven’t, skip this review unless you don’t mind spoilers.) Sure, it’s been on that fairly lengthy list of movies that I’ve been thinking about seeing since I was, oh, a teenager. I’m starting to realize that I’ll die without having viewed all the films on my list. It’s far from the biggest regret I’ll have while dying, but it’s a small one. I wonder if they have Netflix in the afterlife?
While we’re waiting to die and find out, travel back with me to 1968, to a movie that starts off with a few creepy piano notes, making me wonder–just which horror film began that trend? The film itself is set in 1965, which is not necessarily a more innocent time, but one with more gentility. Rosemary propositions her husband Guy with a romantic overture.
ROSEMARY: Hey. Let’s make love.
And even when times get bad, Rosemary retains that sense of incredible politeness. That’s where much of the horror arises for me, not in the guise of demons and devil-worshippers, but in the world of patriarchy and a woman’s place which seem to be the same whether one looks to heaven or hell.
You know that things are going bad when the cover story to explain away the scratch marks she receives in the night is that, oh no no, it wasn’t a Satanic ritual involving devil-rape, but a simple old-fashioned case of a husband raping a wife while she slept.
More horror ensues as her husband and friends from the building pick out her doctor. (Of course, a female doctor is out of the question.) Rosemary isn’t even supposed to control her own appearance.
GUY: What’s that?
ROSEMARY: I’ve been to Vidal Sassoon.
GUY: Don’t tell me you paid for that.
The distance between Rosemary and her husband Guy is portrayed almost as if it were to be expected with the times, that husbands are distant and patronizing. When Guy tells her that he threw out the book their friend Hutch gave her, as Guy shoves a pill into Rosemary’s mouth, it seems like the devil could be in all husbands. When Dr. Hill (played by a very un-Grodinesque Charles Grodin) betrays Rosemary to her husband and old doctor rather than heeding her concerns, the desperation and claustrophobia builds to a crescendo.
Even before that scene, the film betrays an incredible worry about the counterculture. Rosemary needs to be controlled, but the people who are doing it are suspicious because they make their own vitamins and they have pierced ears. I still find it hard to believe that this film was made before the Manson murders where the director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered. Too much of what was captured in that horror is hinted at in this film. It’s a film which asks us to question that borderline between nightmare and reality.
ROSEMARY: This is no dream. This is really happening!
I love the slow set-up of the film, with them first settling into their new home, although it is the weirdness of the apartment building itself that is the first bad omen.
HUTCH: Are you aware that the Bramford had rather an unpleasant reputation around the turn of the century?
The Bramford in real life was the Dakota, which is where John Lennon was living when he was shot and killed in 1980, and some of my interest in watching the film now is to remember what was, back then, when I was a kid.
Not to mention being able to drop in to see the doctor!
Although I don’t understand why the devil would express himself through anagrams or numerology and the like. I wonder if he’s fond of scrabble conventions and the daily jumble?
In the end, I was very impressed by the film–and, oh, that ending! Because of the images I’ve seen over the years, of the Satanists and the nightmare scene, I was expecting it to end in a bigger crescendo, in the big reveal of evil. It does end with evil, of course, but it’s much more sinister than imagined. It ties into what I was talking about with the oppressiveness of the society.
The flip comes with Rosemary going from wanting to save her baby to wanting to escape it, and finding out that the enemy simply wants her to be the best mother that she can be. That’s the deep shock, as Polanski manages to merge the tradition and terror. What could possibly be wrong with having a cup of tea with one’s friend, gathered to celebrate the newborn child?