September issue 2018
Classic Film Review: Rosemary’s Baby
Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) opens with the humming of a lullaby by Rosemary Woodhouse, the film’s protagonist (played by Mia Farrow). It is the perfect introduction – one that creates a sense of the naivety of the character reciting the tune. This distant voice belongs to a person who may be in denial, or has perhaps blocked out a reality that proved too sinister to bear. In trademark Polanski fashion, the opening sequence aptly sets the tone for what is to come.
Guy and Rosemary are a glamorous couple who have moved into a new apartment, where the latter learns that she is expecting. Guy is an up-and-coming Hollywood actor looking for his big break. Yet all is not well in paradise. There are signs from the very beginning of a darker underbelly to the American dream. Rosemary notices the eerie and eccentric nature of some of the residents of the building. She hears strange stories. Prior to finding out she is pregnant, she has a vivid nightmare in which she is subjected to a strange, robed ritual that culminates in her being raped by a beast resembling her husband.
Their neighbours, the Castavets – Roman (Sidney Blackmer) and Minnie (Ruth Gordon) – are a nosy elderly couple who grow overly friendly and increasingly controlling of Rosemary during the course of her pregnancy. It becomes increasingly apparent to her that they are no ordinary old-timers. Roman, she notes, has pierced ears and, according to her friend Hutch (Maurice Evans), “piercing eyes.” Raspy-voiced Minnie, meanwhile, concocts herbal remedies that lead Rosemary to fall severely ill. It is then, based on some research done by Hutch, that Rosemary begins to suspect a wider conspiracy, of which her husband is a part.
She learns of an old book titled All of Them Witches about satanic cults and covens across the globe, one of which was based in her building in the 19th century and run by Roman’s father. Rosemary has reason to believe that this coven still exists and currently consists of most of the residents of the building – as well as outsiders, including one doctor. To her horror, she suspects that they want to sacrifice her baby in a satanic ritual.
Like in many other Polanski films, the protagonist – along with the audience – is made to suspect a plot that is too cruel and outrageous to be realistic. Characters portrayed as being potential members of the cult try and convince Rosemary that her paranoia is getting the better of her. Deep down we too hope, for her sake, that this is true; that she may be suffering from a persecution complex.
Rosemary soon finds herself in a claustrophobic environment that is closing in like a noose around her neck. She turns to the world that lies beyond the building for salvation, but is unable to find any well-wishers or a return to normalcy. It is a world starkly similar to the one Telkovsky (played by Roman Polanski) finds himself in, in the director’s later masterpiece, The Tenant (1976). The two films are distant cousins.
The writer is an Assistant Editor at Newsline. (Website: alibhutto.com)