In which I write a little bit about films I saw long ago and am reacquainting myself with. You can find write-ups of more of my rewatches in my weekly Viewings and Rewatches posts. Each week I’ll pick a film to expand on just a bit. These posts are still meant to be on the informal side as these viewings almost double as first-sees because its been that long since their last viewing.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Polanski)
First Seen in: 2003 or 2004
A bona-fide classic in my favorite subgenre of horror, that of the psychological. A lot of credit goes to Ira Levin’s novel which, though I haven’t read, I hear is an extremely close adaptation by Polanski down to apartment geography, color schemes and dialogue. It takes a plot that could have been very silly or campy in other hands and roots it in relatable fears and a very real sense of inevitability that remains very disturbing.
I’m doubting that Polanski was concerned with women’s issues, but the film’s most disturbing elements comes from them, purposefully placed or not. Rosemary isn’t in control of her own body, and even worse, she submits to others throughout even up until the end. Her efforts are dismissed by everyone, involved or not involved in the plot against her, making her think she doesn’t know her own mind. And so she isn’t really in control of anything. Most disturbing of all is the moment when Guy admits to having sex with her while she slept and her merely moderate perturbation fades away. And then at the end, when Guy says something to the effect of ‘you weren’t really hurt. Not really’, the issue of rape is downplayed by the patriarchy. These elements got at me just as much as the paranoia, the comfort of the home being turned into a prison den, the camera alternating between lurking and invasive, the claustrophobic helplessness, the dreams/hallucinations, etc.
Mia Farrow is phenomenal. It’s one of my all-time favorite performances. There’s just something about her, an unerring sympathetic quality she’s got that is crucial to this film. She alternates between the fragile childlike doting housewife and a deer caught in headlights. Her costumes are shapeless baby-doll dresses, classy and simple, keeping in with the setting of 1965. My favorite is that one-for-the-ages blood-red jumpsuit. So unlike any of her other costumes.
I think getting to know Guy a bit more would have added another dimension to the suspense, but it would have altered the perspective of the film so it makes sense why this couldn’t happen.
The pitch-black humor really works too, like the comic relief of Ruth Gordon who is a kitschy riot. She had every little thing down to a tee and she entertains in the minutiae of her character. The way she picks up Rosemary’s mail, looks at it and says “Eeh, ads” and walks away. The prime example is when the picks up the knife that had gone blade-first into the floor, licks her finger and swabs it over the spot. It’s a split-second touch and it hilariously adds so much to the scene and her character. Having Minnie and Roman be nosy over-the-top nuisances instead of the overused super-nice-neighbors-who-are-really-evil cliche works really well. They are such characters and all that white noise makes their nefarious nature that much eerier. It also says something that Rosemary is caught in the clutches of the elderly at such a crucial decade in history.
On a final note, you could pretty much gorge on this film’s cinematography and meticulous framing for days on end, which gives the apartment endless dreamy character as a space Rosemary has control over at the start of the film. Polanski is known for his precision as a director; everything in the frame including body movement has been mapped out to a tee. It’s really a film lovers paradise.