Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Quite like CarrieRosemary’s Baby is one of those movies that transcends the term “iconic”. I’ve known its premise since I was a child, and I believe I may have even seen it when I was quite young. In my mind, I might as well have never laid eyes on it. When first viewing the film as a child I was far too young to even remotely understand its elegant complexity, let alone be shaken by its subtle horror. That being said, and in spite of how iconic the film is, my experience watching it this time around was absolutely wonderful!

I loved it, plain and simple. It is so far removed from contemporary horror that it makes me heartsick; you simply cannot find horror like this anymore. It’s purely psychological, and in such a way that I think speaks more to women than anyone else (a pretty obvious observation for anyone who’s seen the film, no doubt.)

The mere thought that one could create something so horrific plays on, I’m sure, many Freudian theories of femininity and reproduction. The moment their baby begins kicking, as Rosemary (Mia Farrow) gleefully and borderline hysterically proclaims “it’s alive!” only further emphasizes the notion of birthing a monster. The Frankenstein reference is hardly unnoticed, I’d imagine by anyone with even the subtlest of backgrounds in film.

Even more beautiful is John Cassavetes reaction: pure repulsion at the signs of life of “his” unborn child. Farrow forces his hand on her belly, and he swiftly retracts it, almost as if shaking dirt from it. You can see his revulsion at the signs of life from a mile away. I wish I had the energy right now to further dissect the implications of such a scene.

These notions of the monstrous feminine, dissected by Barbara Creed and further examined by Jane M. Ussher, are seeping into my brain more and more these days, and I blame Carrie and Rosemary’s Baby for that. In school I found it fascinating but I never totally bought into the theories pertaining to monstrous feminine in film. Now, for whatever reason, I find it fascinating. I would love to explore it further.

I find it particularly fascinating that in Ussher’s book, Managing the Monstrous Feminine, she looks at the grotesque nature of child birth and pregnancy. She brings to the foreground how the mother is portrayed as only experiencing sexuality and desire for the purposes of reproduction, and discusses the biblical depictions of the virginal mother, saintly and pure, versus Eve, lustful and corrupt, bringing about the end of days. In this depiction Farrow’s Rosemary is clearly unwittingly Eve, having succumbed to sexual desire and become a vessel for the end of humanity.

Christianity presents us with the idealized asexual mother in the figure of the Virgin Mary, she whose womb bears fruit, yet still remains chaste and intact. Her counterpart, Eve, the temptress whose sexuality led to man’s fall from grace and to original sin being bestowed on the rest of the human race, is a warning of what woman can be. A message that “woman is sanctioned only in her role as passive and silenced mother [with] desire wholly contained within her maternal role”.

I find it clear to connect Ussher’s point to Rosemary, the unwitting Eve, who wanted so desperately to be the perfect housewife and mother, the Mary of the city. Depicting her succumbing to sexual desire at the beginning of the film tarnishes any image of purity, and shows her for what she is: a woman who desires, specifically, the “sins” of the flesh, as it were. She was put forth as a desirous woman from the very beginning, and so her idealized Virgin Mary, perfect housewife reality could never be. At least not in Roman Polanski’s world.

Throughout the entirety of the film there is a supreme chill that you cannot ignore, and it is simply wonderful. You feel unnerved, even in spite of the somewhat cheesy proclamations upon the film’s conclusion (“Hail Satan”? Really?). And what’s even better still is that the chill stays with you. It lingers well after the film has ended. Not much else can be said except to conclude that it is a masterpiece. No question.

This post was originally published on my tumblr on November 15, 2011.