I recall seeing Rosemary’s Baby awhile ago on TV, but not knowing what it was. It all came back to me as I remembered seeing this film before, but thankfully this time I got to see it from the beginning. And it is a truly great horror film, one that could have ended up being far sillier than it turned out to be. I mean the premise is pretty silly when you think about it, especially since this was made in 1968. It was pretty natural at that time for a younger generation to believe anyone over 60 worshiped Satan. But what makes it work so well is that the older people in the film are intentionally made funny, especially the diabolical, and not to mention incredibly nosy, Minnie Castevet (hilariously portrayed by Ruth Gordon). Their ability to manipulate young Rosemary (Mia Farrow), is pretty unprecedented, as anytime Rosemary wants to get away or find her own way, the scheming old timers simply compromise and bargain with her, playing to her wishes when they know in time they will definitely get what they want. They have pretty much all the patience in the world. They’ve probably done this so many times manipulating young girls that Rosemary is probably just too easy for them (well, okay, she’s a bit of a challenge, but by the end we see nothing they can’t handle).
The only other Polanski film I’ve seen is Chinatown, but that is also an incredible film, and the director has a unique style and vision, and dare I say is a game changer in cinema. The film is grounded firmly in the reality it portrays, and what’s great are the incredibly natural performances that come from the cast, making it all the more real and frightening for us as the film goes on. The young couple, Rosemary and Guy (John Cassavetes) start out as a free spirited, only to be seduced and taken over by the older generation, eventually crippling what’s left of their youthful vigor. Guy especially, who seems manipulated into joining them right off the bat when he’s promised a great career at the expense of having somebody else suddenly and inexplicably becoming blind. Dark stuff indeed. I especially loved the character Dr. Saperstien (Ralph Bellamy), who is just as conniving as they come, but always the patient and meticulous doctor, doing everything to please Rosemary, while covering up his sinister intentions.
As far as the ending goes, it’s a bit uncertain what’s happening in Rosemary’s mind as we fade out from the final shot, having realized she’s just delivered the anti-Christ. What’s scary about that final look is seeing her as she gives in to the darkness. Her previous identity gone. Rosemary’s Baby shows what happens when we lose that free spiritedness in ourselves, and how older values corrupt the spirit when we are trying to find ourselves and figure out what we want most in our lives. The older medicine winds up causing Rosemary more pain than anything, and even her younger friends try to warn her to seek help from a younger professional.
There is something to be said about this era of cinema, especially with horror, which served as a great medium for expressing the anger and rebellion happening among a younger generation during those times. Rosemary’s Baby is no exception and delivers it in a scary and fun way. There’s a great balance with the humor and the more insidious threat being played out. This is definitely a great horror film.