I have to admit that, until last night, I had not actually watched the film Rosemary’s Baby. Shameful, I know. I had, however, read the book, a stellar creation of a perfectly articulated battle between good and evil, encapsulated in the body of a pregnant woman.
But last night, finally, I watched the movie. Perfect. In truth, I find it hard to find any flaw at all within it, and much of this may be due to the new to screenwriting Roman Polanski, who, because he was not aware that he could make changes to the book for his script, stuck closely to author Ira Levin’s dialogue. But what I think makes the movie successful on a level unmatched by many horror films today, is the willingness to invest in character.
Unfortunately, these character-driven horror seems to be a thing of the past. Not so Rosemary’s Baby. Mia Farrow, waif-thin and willow-limbed, perfectly embodies the woman of the sixties. Her pixie-cut, a change that comes nearly halfway through the film and is met with protestations from her husband, marks an attempt by Rosemary to assert some means of independence. In a year when women were earning 58 cents to a man’s dollar, this independence came with its own risks. And there is, in my mind, no scarier scene in the movie than when Rosemary awakens on the couch of the second doctor to whom she’s turned for help, a man to whose office she’s arrived at great risk, a man who, one hopes along with her, represents a break from the world of the Bramford–a place where even her own husband has agreed to sacrifice her well-being for the good of his career. When Rosemary falls asleep on the couch of Dr. Hill, with the words “God bless Dr. Hill,” on her lips, we, the audience know better. Rather than believe the woman in distress who has come to him begging for help and asking him not to tell her husband she is there, Dr. Hill assumes she is delusional. When Rosemary awakes on that couch, it is to find her husband and the Satan-worshiping first doctor, Dr. Saperstein, come to take her back to confinement at the Bramford.
Poor Rosemary. But then, it’s 1968 my sweets, and despite the mini-skirts and short haircuts, daddy still knows best. By investing in character, by allowing us to really get to know Rosemary with scenes like the one in her apartment’s kitchen where, for the briefest of moments the women regain power and lock the men out (a scene filmed, incidentally, on the day Mia Farrow was served divorce papers by her husband Frank Sinatra because she wouldn’t agree to quit her role in Rosemary’s Baby in order to act in Sinatra’s film) we understand what Rosemary discovers when she awakens on Dr. Hill’s couch. You can lock yourself behind as many doors as you want, but there is no actual escape. In 1968, the whole world is the Bramford. And this, then, is the film’s triumph. A good horror film invests in character, and through that character, we come to understand the world in which he or she inhabits. And as we come to know the world, we come to know its fears. Poor Rosemary. Poor women.
But then, the seventies are coming, aren’t they? And The Last House on the Left is right around the corner. This time, there will be repercussions….