Bottom Line: A sly surprise.
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Rosemary Woodhouse: Mia Farrow
Guy Woodhouse: John Cassavetes
Also Starring: D’Urville Martin, Elisha Cook, Emmaline Henry, Hanna Landy, Hope Summers, Philip Leeds, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer
It’s true only the good die young. A prime example is Roman Polanski: though a prestigious filmmaker with talent unparalleled, his own personal history is almost too horrifying to believe. Let’s just say that as of 2009, he’s an extradite from U.S. soil. The opening credits aren’t a necessity to identify that Rosemary’s Baby was directed and written for the screen by Polanski. The film was released in 1968, but it functions on a subdued mentality, making it far more disturbing than any horror film released in the last thirty years. Take your experiences with The Exorcist and The Shining, mix away the lumps, pour out on a frying skillet, and there you have it, a psychological typhoon of paranoia, dread, and hysteria that lives on in the mind as just that.
Rosemary’s Baby is a saltshaker of character study, peppered with symbolism in various areas. The sensation develops in a way that is almost unnoticeable, but by the end, it’s almost impossible to handle. The film begins a darkly understated romance. An adaptation of Ira Levin’s 1967 novel of the same name, set from October 1965 through July 1966, the film is a spooky embodiment of a seemingly peaceful residence. Upbeat Rosemary (Mia Farrow) has recently married sketchy Guy, and they plan on having three children in their new apartment. There is something odd about their new domicile, or so they have heard, but it all sounds too fictitious for them. Talk about an impressively human horror movie! You know I’ve never intentionally spoiled anything, and with a drama as deceitfully, insidiously unpredictable as this one, all I can do is try my hardest. Rosemary becomes pregnant with her first child, whom, she has decided, will either be named Andy or Jenny, depending on the gender. But she begins experiencing an absolutely unbearable amount of pain, with which no doctors are willing to help her. Her pain evolves into insanity, so much that she begins accusing her husband of Wicca, blaming him for imposing witchcraft upon the unborn.
Mia Farrow’s portrayal of Rosemary is remarkable. She herself known for slightly oddball characters, it’s rather unsurprising that she would develop the character to memorable standards. That she developed her persona into a white-knuckle, unforgettable landmark, is an entirely different idea. You’d think Farrow’s psychotic behavior would grow ridiculous, but she channels it well along each line of Polanski’s script she delivers. So many twists are delivered, one after another, that when the film reaches its bloodcurdling conclusion, we’re shrieking with her. Another instantaneously commendable factor is the musical work. Both the opening and closing credits are marked by a minor-key lullaby. In the case that you found the lullaby Ofelia sings in Pan’s Labyrinth a haunting piece, I’d advise fast-forwarding through the titles. Sandwiched between those bread slices is Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Für Elise”. It’s a universally recognizable piece, and perhaps one of the few of the romantic period time just as familiar by title. There was the time you thought this piano serenade was beautiful, and then there was the time you shiver when you heard it. The midpoint is marked by the day you viewed Rosemary’s Baby, an unsettling, nonetheless essential, viewing. Its gestation period in the human mind doesn’t end, and instead builds up and demands further viewings.
Postscript: Here’s a gruesomely bizarre yet strangely intriguing ring of coincidences. The exterior apartment shots in Rosemary’s Baby were filmed at the Dakota in Manhattan, New York. 12 years later, John Lennon was murdered at the Dakota. Lennon co-wrote the song “Helter Skelter”, a heavy influence of the psychopathic beliefs of serial killer Charles Manson. Manson murdered Sharon Tate, Polanski’s wife, in 1969. Tate was pregnant at the time of her death, due only two weeks later. Shudder.