Guest contributor Rogelio Rodríguez shares his thoughts on Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
based on the novel by Ira Levin
written and directed by Roman Polanski
I’m not a fan of Mia Farrow. I don’t know anything about the work of John Cassavetes and, since I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in God or in his buddy the Devil. Having said all that, after finally watching it a couple of months ago, I still can’t get Rosemary’s Baby out of my head. It’s that good.
Rosemary’s Baby is a horror movie that doesn’t make you jump out of your seat or fall off your bed. There are no “Boo!” moments, no use of easy conventions like monsters or stings. Aside from some makeup, there are no elaborate special effects and the story is not necessarily a work of fantasy. But Rosemary’s Baby is scary.
The plot is very simple: A young couple moves to an apartment in an old brownstone in New York. The girl apparently becomes a victim of a nefarious scheme between the old neighbors next door, her obstetrician, and – perhaps – even her husband. The object of the conspiracy is getting her pregnant by none other than… the Devil himself. It’s almost like a counterpart to the “story” of Jesus, son of God (because if God could get a woman pregnant, why not the Devil?).
The script is based on the bestseller from the ’60s. I remember reading it sometime in the ’70s when I was about 11. I liked it. Couldn’t put it down.
It’s a story that is constructed, both in the book and in the movie, very slowly. The audience first watches the young and loving couple as they meet the older, sweet, and somewhat annoying neighbors; then the loving couple interacting with the older, now strangely attentive neighbors; and finally the no-longer-loving couple dealing with true neighbors from hell.
When the film is over, you ask yourself if something supernatural actually did happen, or if everything could’ve just occurred in the head of the protagonist.
Rosemary’s Baby does not make your heart beat faster all of a sudden. On the contrary, you feel quite relaxed as the film sets up the love story, but little by little your pulse starts to quicken. In the end, you may not be on the verge of a heart attack, but you do ask yourself, “Why am I so nervous? Why am I sweating? Why am I so uncomfortable if I haven’t seen one drop of blood and I’m not even so sure that Satan is actually part of the story?”
The film is very much like its poster – simple, mysterious, effective, but not reliant on sensationalism. It’s like its main musical theme – a lullaby that makes your hair stand on end. It’s like its slogan, “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby” – you don’t quite understand what it means, but it makes you curious and afraid.
Why is Rosemary’s Baby a horror film, if it doesn’t terrify you? If it doesn’t make you want to close your eyes? Maybe because it needs to be classified in a new type of genre. In its time, the term Dark Fantasy was in vogue, but I wouldn’t use it, since “fantasy” doesn’t do it justice.
Mia Farrow is amazing as Rosemary. Gentle and sexy at the beginning, gentle and crazy towards the middle, gentle and the purest embodiment of evil at the end.
And what a whopper of an ending – there’s no way to anticipate it, and yet it makes perfect sense. Because, if you were the Devil himself, instead of just winning over the heroine, you should try to win her over. And besides, not even the Devil can fight against maternal instinct… so he’d better take advantage of it.
I wonder what would happen if someone would produce the counterpart to this counterpart. A movie about a group of fanatical Christians intent on getting a woman pregnant, against her will, with God’s child… After all, the Devil doesn’t ask Rosemary for permission. And, as far as we know, no one asked Mary either.
I’m not sure anyone would dare embark on such an adventure right now. Scorsese didn’t fare well with The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), a movie in which Jesus was portrayed as a real flesh-and-blood person, someone even people who don’t believe in the scripture could sympathize with. But then he made him somewhat lustful… and got in trouble.
Rosemary’s Baby – rent it or buy it. Adapted and directed by then 35-year-old Roman Polanski, at the top of his game.
Rating: ***½ | Very Good