Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Cutting Edge: Rosemary's Baby

Often in horror films, suspense is key to engaging the audience. In Roman Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968) a very different technique is used to achieve a feeling of dread and horror. Adapted from Ira Levin's novel, this film does not suddenly shock the audience, something is common with films in this genre. In fact, one might not even believe it was 'horror' to begin with. However, as the film progresses it becomes clear that there is something much more sinister lurking under the surface.

Fig. 1 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968)
The film starts off rather innocently, a young woman named Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) move into a new apartment. They eventually befriend their older neighbors Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer) who can be quite nosey but appear to be harmless enough. While Rosemary wishes to have a baby, her husband Guy seems more interested in his acting career than starting a family. However, they eventually decide to have a child, which is where the film begins to take a dark and unexpected turn.

Watching 'Rosemary's Baby' is an interesting experience as the audience knows something odd is going on relatively early in the film. This is very unusual for a horror film as usually the viewer is kept in the dark so a surprise can be delivered at the end. Instead, Polanski "gives the audience a great deal of information early in the story, and by the time the movie's halfway over we're pretty sure what's going on in that apartment next door. When the conclusion comes, it works not because it is a surprise but because it is horrifyingly inevitable," (Ebert, 1968). Early in the film Rosemary, clearly drugged, is seemingly raped by some monstrous creature in a surreal and disturbing dream. Although Rosemary dismisses this dream as her husband Guy having sex with her while she was unconscious, the viewer is left to suspect that this is not the truth.

Fig. 2 The Devil's Eyes
The viewer is then forced to witness Rosemary slowly suffer through her pregnancy and she begins to piece together what is really going on in her apartment building. This feels frustrating and difficult to watch at times due to how innocent and naive the character is. If everything about witchcraft and satanism is true it is clear that she would be incapable to fight against it. "Polanski slyly exploits her mannered childishness. Even before she gets pregnant she wears shapeless little smocks and flat, little girl shoes...Rosemary repeats parrot-fashion other characters' statements and allows herself to be completely dominated,"  (Errigo, 2000). It is clear that even though Rosemary cares about her baby's safety, she has a certain weakness to her that allows people to take advantage of her.

Fig. 3 Rosemary's Dress
This is also clear by her reaction to her husband after her dream where she was raped by a demonic monster. When she wakes up, she discovers scratches on her body and Guy casually explains that he had sex with her as she slept because he didn't want to 'miss the chance' to get her pregnant. Despite Rosemary being irritated about it at first, she just accepts it and moves on. Seeing their dismissive reactions regarding sexual consent is disturbing in itself, even if they are married. However, once the truth is discovered and we know that it wasn't Guy who raped Rosemary, he becomes a truly disgusting character. "The most despicable villain is surely Guy, who allows his wife to be raped by the devil in exchange for an acting role," (Billson, 2010).  

While 'Rosemary's Baby' strays from the traditional method of building up suspense for fear, it is often celebrated as one of the best horror films of all time due to how disturbing and dark it is. This is perhaps due to the audience suspecting what is going on early in the film and being forced to watch an relatively innocent and sincere character slowly suffer and realize the truth for herself. It also makes the audience second guess themselves multiple times, is it really satanism and witchcraft or is Rosemary just crazy? In the end, perhaps the most horrifying aspect is seeing Rosemary's motherly instincts kick in despite her grim experience and knowing her child is Satan's son. The viewer never knows what happens next, we are just left with Rosemary's final little smile as she slowly rocks the baby's black cradle back and forth.

Adler, R. (1968) Rosemary's Baby (1968) At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF1738E271BC4B52DFB0668383679EDE Accessed on: 15/3/2016
Billson, A. (2010) Rosemary's Baby: No 2 best horror film of all time At: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/22/rosemarys-baby-polanksi-horror Accessed on: 15/3/2016
Ebert, R (1968) Rosemary's Baby At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/rosemarys-baby-1968 Accessed on: 15/3/2016
Errigo, A. (2000) Rosemary's Baby Review At: http://www.empireonline.com/movies/rosemarys-baby/review/ Accessed on: 15/3/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Rosemary's Baby [Poster] At: http://36.media.tumblr.com/fc8b9b476f25cced11ce42b48b1c86ff/tumblr_nm7b0r6Cgk1tfd6dso8_1280.jpg Accessed on 15/3/2016
Figure 2. The Devil's Eyes [Film Still] At: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7kX9Q6LfNWk/U8yV90nsKXI/AAAAAAAACb4/cDXHcjYGo2c/s1600/Rosemary-Satan1.jpg Accessed on: 15/3/2016
Figure 3. Rosemary's Dress [Film Still] At: http://ladymanson.com/galleries/movies/MoviesRS/displayimage.php?pid=292034&fullsize=1 Accessed on: 15/3/2016

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you 'enjoyed' this one Dee :) An engaging review, as per usual...