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Classic Movie Review: 'Rosemary's Baby'

This week's classic on Everyone Is A Critic is a major influence on one of this week's newest movies.

By Sean PatrickPublished 7 years ago 5 min read

Rosemary’s Baby is one of the most sneakily ingenious psycho-dramas ever made. Director Roman Polanski, a quite correctly demonized figure today, was a masterful director in his day. In Rosemary’s Baby, arguably his finest film, Polanski uses film technique and his unique sensibilities to take seemingly normal and mundane things and use our perceptions of those things against us. The most obvious and blatant of these mundane things is using the elderly as the film’s villains, especially the grandmotherly Ruth Gordon.

Rosemary’s Baby is set in New York in 1965. Rosemary is an aspiring housewife to Guy (John Cassavetes), an actor looking for a big break on Broadway while making a living as an actor in commercials. Rosemary and Guy have just landed a beautiful new apartment in a venerated old building with a very creepy history. According to a friend, the building was the home to several disturbing deaths and rumors of occult activities.

This, however, does not put off Rosemary, at least not until she meets the neighbors. Minnie (Gordon) and her husband Roman (Sidney Blackmer) seem like the doting grandparent types by the look of them but when they begin to force their way further and further into the lives of Rosemary and Guy we completely understand why Rosemary feels as uncomfortable as she is. Roman, by some luck, is a producer and when Guy begins spending more time with him his career begins to turn around.

Meanwhile, the couple is trying to get pregnant and here is where Polanski pulls off a really neat and disturbing trick. In what seems as if it could be a dream, Rosemary finds herself slowly beginning to pass out and dream that she is on a yacht with friendly people having a nice time. However, the edges of her dream seem to be tearing away and a bizarre sort of reality is seeping into the fantasy, a dark disturbing reality that finds a nude Rosemary tied to a bed in a room full of nude old people and her freaked out husband. She is then raped by the Devil himself, a cloven hooved demon who climbs on top of her while the old folks chant creepily.

When Rosemary wakes up she has scratches on her shoulders seemingly from the beast himself, though her husband claimed they came from him despite her having slept through their encounter. From here, Rosemary will learn that she is pregnant and Polanski will use the joy and anticipation one might feel regarding bringing new life into the world as a weapon against us and Rosemary, especially Rosemary as she is unaware for the most part that her encounter with Satan was real.

One could write academic treatises on the metaphor of being pregnant with the devil’s child. There are allusions aplenty to be drawn from this scenario but the one that Polanski seizes upon isn’t so much symbolic as it is emotional. Our perception of pregnancy, that healthy glow a woman is supposed to have, is replaced here by a sickly pallor. The growth of a woman’s body as she is feeding new life inside her is replaced by the pallid and boyish figure of Mia Farrow who looks as if she is being suckled by a vampire.

Polanski turns the normal aspects of pregnancy into new kinds of terrors and uses them to bind us further to our waifish heroine as we wish for her to be protected and try to will her away from the danger that we know is surrounding her even as she remains only slightly less aware. The bond of marriage gets quite a twist here as well as Rosemary remains faithful and trusting of her husband even as we are well aware that he has sold out their loving bond in favor of gaining in his career.

The biggest tweak of sensibilities, however, comes in the way Polanski employs elderly actors as the main villains of the film. We are trained by society to trust our elders and believe in their wisdom and judgment without any suspicion. Here, however, Minnie and Roman are the epitome of evil. They are the ones preparing the way for the arrival of Satan and his opportunity to mate with a human woman. They were the ones who had been keeping one woman in their home to be the sacrificial lamb but have zero compunction about switching their allegiance from that woman to Rosemary without batting an eyelash over that woman's grizzly death.

This use of the elderly as the villains in Rosemary’s Baby is reflective of the times in which the film was released. In 1968 the counter-culture was working hard to shake off the yoke of the Eisenhower-era and reshape American values in their own image. People like Minnie and Roman make for fine fodder as villains as they can be seen to represent several generations of repressive adult figures forcing their values upon the younger generation. The evil of this elderly generation, in reality, isn’t comical Satanism but rather the clinging to long held moralities that are out of date and in need of upending.

The cleverness of Rosemary’s Baby when added to the suffocating style of Roman Polanski’s direction combine to create a horror classic thick with meaning but always in mind of keeping audiences at rapt, taut attention. Polanski’s use of the space of that creepy apartment is masterful, we are almost constantly unbalanced, much like Rosemary, and we are as often as she is, attempting to find our feet in this ever more intense atmosphere.

This builds to an ending that is so outlandish, so campily over the top, that it seems to go completely insane and then rebuild the tension all within the space of a few frames. We go from shock to lunacy to laughing at the audacity of the moment to being willed back into the tension of the finale and finally gut-punched by the final moment when Rosemary makes a fateful and horrible decision. It’s a pitch black ending that divided audiences in 1968 and likely will still divide audiences in 2017.

For all the awfulness of Roman Polanski as a person, it’s impossible for me to deny that Rosemary’s Baby is one of the all time great horror thrillers. This is a masterpiece of tension and suspense that is thick with meaning and outlandishly daring in its climax. Polanski the man may disgust me but Polanski the auteur remains impossible to deny.

We will be talking about Rosemary’s Baby as this week’s classic on the Everyone Is A Critic Podcast. We will especially be discussing the ways in which Rosemary’s Baby unquestionably influenced Darren Aronofsky in the making of his new movie Mother!, another film we will be discussing this week along with American Assassin and the 30th Anniversary of the Glenn Close-Michael Douglas thriller Fatal Attraction. New episodes of Everyone Is A Critic are available on iTunes every Monday and on


About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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