Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Polanski, based on a novel by Ira Levin
For several years I watched this film once a month. It was a comfort cookie, a personal ritual. Along with the glass of red wine and the heating pad, it signaled the happy fact that I was (again) not having Satan's child. Now, as always, that is the job of Mia Farrow.
By the way, this probably won't be my last post about Rosemary's Baby. It is a film I know frame-by-frame and line-by-line. But its sweet complexities, chilling presumptions and amusing absurdities require several essays to do them justice.
I assume most readers have seen the film. But for the benefit of the other six people:
Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor husband Guy move into a big, old (barely affordable) apartment in an infamous building in New York City. Creaky and spooky things abound, and it soon becomes clear (to viewers) that the bloody legends connected to the place are based on real occurrences. The Woodhouses are taken under the wing of an elderly couple named Castevet, who form a surprisingly close bond with the ordinarily skeptical Guy. Some bad things happen, but they are quickly swept under the tasteful throw rugs when Rosemary discovers she is pregnant at the same time that Guy's career seems to be taking off at last.
Every RB fan has a favorite element, one that brings all the others together. Mine is Ruth Gordon. This performance greatly enhanced her career and led to international fame as the 80-something star of Harold and Maude. But I cringe at the sound of Gordon's voice when her RB character, Minnie Castevet, tosses around pleasantries that are not quite right, yet not weird enough to arouse suspicion in our titular heroine.
In fact, the fey and rather dim-witted Rosemary could have figured out the whole plot if she were less shallow. But she fixates on her neighbor's lack of coolness: Minnie's bad home cooking, bad hair, and wall-to-wall carpeting. Minnie's grating pronouncements and quirky mannerisms draw attention away from the acutely bizarre setting, and provide a grandmotherly smugness against which the petulant Rosemary can react.
And Rosemary does react, rather than acting. She is an unformed flower child. Her psyche is so malleable that she tells Minnie and Roman Castevet she doesn't know what she believes. She is a creature Ira Levin (author of another cult classic, Stepford Wives) drew in obsessively accurate detail: The energetic young woman without a clue, the sweetly sexy wife who prefers to let an older, wiser hubby take charge of her.
Rosemary is constantly quoting the men in her life. She quotes her husband, Guy, then her elderly friend and mentor Hutch, then her doctor. She only resorts to quoting a female friend when she has to argue with her husband and she's been severely weakened by prolonged pain. Once the pain subsides, Rosemary returns to the obedient manner of a happy little girl. She eats and drinks what she's told, and becomes so involved in her jolly pregnancy that she forgets all about the rest of the world. All of this is part of the Castevet plan, of course.
If she only had a brain, Rosemary might have figured out that the "long arm of coincidence" Minnie cites is nearly impossible, and the blank spots on Minnie's apartment walls do indicate that the pictures were removed recently and that's a very strange thing to do, and…
Well, watch for yourself. The giddy fun of seeing Rosemary stupidly putting herself in harm's way (and Satan's lovin' embrace) just never gets old.
(originally published S. P. Miskowski 10/31/07 12:12 p.m.)