Fashion Film Fun: Rosemary's Baby

We can't ignore the inclination to indulge in a scary movie (or two) in the month of October. One of the all-time classic scary films with a stylish aesthetic is of course, Rosemary's Baby. For decades this movie has been scaring the wits out of viewers while at the same time enthralling with its stylish New Yorker characters.

Mia Farrow as Rosemary in Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's horror - image: snakkle

Why is it Influential?

Although it is nearly fifty years old, Roman Polanski's foray into the horror genre still makes top horror movie lists year after year for good reason. Not only was it Polanski's first major Hollywood film, but the story itself was also groundbreaking for mainstream film at that time and paved the way for other notable horror classics with a satanic twist such as the Omen, and of course, the unforgettable Exorcist. The original novel the film was based on was written by Ira Levin, and he credits Polanski with remaining very close to his book. The backlash that Levin had expected to get from the novel (1967) was actually realized when the film premiered in New York in the summer of 1968. It was besieged by protestors and several religious groups condemned the film outright including the Catholic church, which slapped the then-notable 'C' rating (for Condemned) on the work.

....and of course, as with any great horror movie, there are lingering rumors of a curse afflicting anyone associated with the film.

The timing for a film like this was ideal as it hit upon a general fascination with the occult that began to sweep the USA and the UK from the late 60's through the 70's. There are many societal factors that contributed to this trend. There was an overall perception that humanity was unravelling and society in decay, as well as a proliferation of new drugs which gave the sensation of entering an alternate state. Many popular rock & roll bands of the day were making reference to the occult; even the Beatles had shaken off their clean cut image and were dabbling in mysticism. In addition, there was a growing opposition to Christian religious doctrine giving rise to various cults; in a bizarre twist of fate, the notorious Manson cult would have a shocking and ironic impact in Polanski's own life a year after Rosemary's release. Another pivotal development - the Church of Satan formally organized in the US in 1966 bringing to a head a stew of various counterculture and pagan influences that had been percolating on the West Coast since the early 50's.

If you are observant, you will notice a scene in the film where Rosemary (a lapsed Catholic) is confronted with a Time magazine cover asking "Is God Dead?". In some ways, this film seemed to be at the forefront of a cultural explosion.

The Plot

The storyline is built around some pretty basic fears as well as turning some deeply entrenched truisms on their heads. The young couple, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes), decide to move to a bigger apartment as they are hopeful to be starting a family soon. Guy is also optimistic about his acting career, which has not taken off yet. They first meet some nosy but seemingly harmless elderly neighbors, the Castevets, under unpleasant circumstances: a the police scene of a suicide. Although the elderly couple sort of worms their way into their lives, they are not alarmed because their age renders them harmless (or so it seems). They begin to trust them as neighbors and elders. After Rosemary does eventually become pregnant during a truly disorienting and surreal dream sequence, the couple elderly couple immediately push upon them a high profile obstetrician to manage Rosemary's care. The whole thing feels like such an immense favor, that Rosemary feels obligated to agree to switch doctors.

Throughout the pregnancy, you see Rosemary growing more and more sickly looking and exhausted. As her apprehensions about the pregnancy grow, the tension builds. Any parent can probably relate to some of the anxiety being experienced during a first pregnancy and some of those common fears are exploited here as you watch things seeming to spiral downward. The doctor in which she places so much trust does not very much to help her even when she is experiencing discomfort that does not seem normal at all. She has no reason not to trust a doctor, whose primary concern is supposed to be his patients' health and in that day and age, people placed almost absolute trust in doctors; the film is calling into question various groups have been historically trusted by society.

As the plot unfolds and Rosemary becomes convinced that there is something diabolical going on, it becomes more difficult to extract herself from her situation. She is sure that her husband has collaborated with Satan-worshippers in her building to further his career and in the bargain has agreed to hand over their child for their destruction in some sort of rite. The tension of the harrowing scene where she tries to secure herself in their apartment to safely deliver are only topped by her realization of the full horror of the situation in the final scene of the film.