By: KJ Hamilton
Rosemary’s Baby – 1968 – dir. Roman Polanski – Original Theatrical Trailer
“The name is an anagram.” This is the line that the entire plot of the movie hinges on. In fact, even the title of the movie is an anagram: A BRASSY EMBRYO. The definition of ‘brassy’ in this case is “brazen, bold, loud”; three words which accurately describe this film. The basic plot of the film is centered around newlyweds. They move into a new apartment, and meet new neighbors who offer to advance the husband’s struggling career. His wife’s womb is offered in exchange.
There are several themes in this film. The first involves the relationship and bond between a husband and wife, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes). In the beginning, they are two happy lovers who truly enjoy being around each other, there’s nothing to hide, nothing to distrust. It does not last long. Guy soon puts his career ahead of his marriage. His guilt over the deal he made becomes apparent: he progresses from sleeping in the nude, to full-blown pajamas, he rarely looks into her eyes, he’s suspicious of Rosemary’s friends. One could almost feel sorry for him because he’s the epitome of someone stuck between a rock and a hard place. However, one must remember that this was a choice he made in order to further himself and his career. Pity soon vanishes once that realization sinks in and it’s then easy to recognize his cowardice and vanity.
The second theme is the relationship between friends. The Woodhouses are a younger couple, with a grand assortment of friends. Minnie and Roman Castevet (Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer)are an older couple, also with several friends. Once these two couples meet, Rosemary has to struggle to keep up with her own friends, the connection that her husband has with the Castevets initially seems very overpowering and strange to her. Desperate for companionship, she befriends the young woman staying with the Castevets, Terry (Victoria Vetri) and is subsequently horrified when she takes her own life. Alone again, Rosemary becomes closer to the older couple during her pregnancy, and the people her own age seem to fade out of the picture—until Rosemary discovers that they’re the only people she really can rely on.
Another theme of the film is pregnancy. “No two pregnancies are alike…” Dr. Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy) cautions Rosemary. She’s not to listen to her friends, nor take prenatal vitamins that come from a bottle. Instead, Minnie Castevet provides her with an herbal drink, that just happens to contain tannis root—a fictional fungus that is apparently preferred by Satan. Rosemary suffers almost unbearable pain for close to three months, yet no one does anything. Rosemary suspects that perhaps Dr. Sapirstein isn’t as brilliant as everyone tells her he is, but doesn’t act on these suspicious until they’re confirmed by her friends. But, the moment that the pain disappears, so do her suspicions. She falls right in line with the rest of the plan.
That is another theme of this film: no one acts on their own accord. It could be easy to say that Roman was pulling the strings, but these characters have obviously given up any amount of free will they have left. Even when Rosemary tries to fight for her baby in the end, she does as Roman suggests: be a mother to her baby in spite of the fact that the child is the actual spawn of Satan.
The most prevalent theme in the movie organized religion. Roman is quick to speak about the hypocrisy behind organized religion, which is perhaps the single most amusing statement in the entire movie because Roman’s entire life has been spent in an organized religion. Just because they choose not to worship God, does not mean that it’s not organized. The definition of “organized”, is “…having a formal structure, especially to coordinate or carry out for widespread activities.” The coven gathers together from all around and sing praise to Satan. They chant, cast spells and use this magic—which is generated by the power of the coven—to force others to bow to their will. All it takes is one item of yours, and you would be under their spell. It all sounds incredibly idealistic, and laughable upon initial reflection. When you delve further into the ideas behind the coven in this film, the story sounds incredibly familiar. Christians, for example, believe that the spirit of God impregnated the Virgin Mary, and, every year they celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Roman’s coven has one goal: to conjure the living demon Satan so he can conceive a child with a mortal woman. The coven tried to recruit different young women, Terry being the last one, but when Terry didn’t agree to go along with the plan she was found dead on the sidewalk. Enter the Woodhouses, two Midwesterners whose desires overpower their collective intelligence. Christ’s purpose on earth was to eventually die to redeem the sins of all mankind. Adrian’s purpose is to vanquish the good on earth and claim it in the name of Satan; which is the exact polar opposite.
1966 is the Year One, rather it’s 1966 AA (After Adrian). We don’t really see the title character at all, though Rosemary’s reaction upon seeing little Adrian for the first time definitely sparks the wildest images in the imagination. Like the upside-down cross that hangs above Adrian’s cradle, this film succeeds at turning everything sacred on its head: marriage, faith, friendship, trust and religion. That is the true power of Rosemary’s Baby. It asks the question: ‘what if?’ and answers itself with a truly terrifying answer. The film isn’t frightening in a blood-guts-and-gore kind of way, rather, it uses our most basic belief system against us and forces us to question ourselves and our surroundings to their very cores.