Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

miaWritten & Directed by: Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Ira Levin

Setting: New York City

My pregnancies — the ones I was able to carry to term — are among the best and worst memories of my life. One odd detail I remember is that I occasionally had strange cravings for raw meat, especially when carrying my son James. I called them my Rosemary’s Baby moments. Egads.

Rosemary's Baby

In the classic adaptation of Levin’s novel, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes), an ambitious but unsuccessful actor, move into a gorgeous New York City apartment with plans of starting a family.

They are quickly befriended by an elderly couple: Minnie (Ruth Gordan) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer). Although Rosemary and Guy appear happily married, Guy has a self-absorbed, condescending quality — he seems unworthy of Rosemary’s trusting, passionate love. And from the beginning dark, claustrophobic shots help create a sense of foreboding. We also learn that the apartment building has a strange history, with mysterious deaths and hints of occult activity.

This film offers outstanding performances by the entire cast, especially Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. Rosemary goes through several transformations. First she deteriorates from a happy young woman to a frightened, wraith-like victim, battling constant pain. Then she evolves from a compliant wife to a more courageous, assertive young woman. Mia Farrow makes both these transitions believable. John Cassevetes offers a portrayal of Guy that is right on the money. Right from the beginning, he has a vaguely loathsome quality. He looks like the kind of guy you’d be tempted to punch in the face simply for being such a self-satisfied pr*ck. Ruth Gordan was also memorable as the friend and neighbor you simultaneously love and can’t stand.

Another thing that stands out is the strong sense of time and place. I loved the sweeping overhead views of the city that opened and closed the film and the shots of New York City. The story incorporates several details that reflect the zeitgeist of the mid-60s, when people imagined that society as they knew it was crumbling, including the famous Time magazine cover asking “Is God Dead?”

The only thing I disliked about this film is the ending — and yes, I know I’m in a minority here. I’ll discuss that in the spoiler section below.

This is a well-crafted, beautifully shot movie. It definitely helps if you see it without reading the novel first and know little or nothing about the premise. (Is there anyone alive today who doesn’t already know the premise? Maybe.) Most of the fun is in the twists and turns in the story.

A Few More Thoughts (Spoilers):

This movie includes myriad unforgettable moments. The dream sequence, intermingled with glimpses of what’s really happening as Rosemary is raped by The Beast and naked cultists look on? Very creepy and disturbing! That was well done. And if, God forbid, there is ever a remake of this movie, I hope it’s done by someone like David Lynch. I am perversely curious to see what he’d do with that dream sequence. 😛

I still can’t stand the ending, where Rosemary learns that she’s been made the Handmaiden of Satan. I think it’s one of those scenes that’s difficult to adapt to film effectively. The bassinet swathed in black with the inverted crucifix above it? Rosemary screaming while all those peculiar septuagenarian satanists look on? (“He has his father’s eyes.”) The odd Oriental dude, acting like a tourist, snapping pictures of the baby? Everyone chanting “Hail, Satan?” I just burst out laughing. I couldn’t help it. And that kind of killed the mood. To be fair, the story had already been spoiled for me by the novel.

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