in Shocktober

Rosemary’s Baby

During any other week, I might be inclined to play devil’s advocate against John’s dismay toward Roman Polanski, and say that there is such a thing as separating the art from the artist. But the fact of the matter is… I can’t. Because it is just not a great week to be ruminating on someone who used his status in Hollywood to take advantage of a younger woman. Granted, with Polanski, I think it’s complicated, since he’s lived a uniquely tragic 20th-century life. And also, unlike a lot of powerful, shitty men in Hollywood who’ve taken advantage of women, you could argue he’s been sufficiently punished for it. Well shit. I guess I did play devil’s advocate there a bit. But the truth is, he sucks. And guys like him suck. But unfortunately, Rosemary’s Baby sucks less than most of the horror movies I’ve ever seen.

I feel a lot less inclined to recount the plot of Rosemary’s Baby, because unlike a lot of the movies we’ve done this Shocktober, it’s pretty darn famous. But to keep it brief, it’s about a young married couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, respectively), who’ve just move to New York to start a family. Meanwhile, Guy is trying to find success as an actor, while the newly pregnant Rosemary is preparing to embrace her status as a mother. Also, they’re constantly being bothered by their nosey neighbors, the most memorable of which is played by the indomitable Ruth Gordon. However, Rosemary quickly finds herself getting paranoid about their hospitality, while similarly becoming paranoid that something is not right about her unborn child.

I suppose the great thing about Rosemary’s Baby is that like a lot of great horror movies, it is kind of vague about a lot of its details for much of its running time. But unlike a lot of horror movies, it takes its time weaving in a lot of different themes that can be picked apart. I suppose the one that hits closest to home for me is the film’s use of urban paranoia, as I’ve never been one to live too far from a major city, which I’ve often found comfort in.  But as this film demonstrates, with more populated areas, there is always this underlying feeling that the strangers around you are just that – strange.

But I have to assume all of the really unsettling stuff about this movie is tied to its themes of womanhood, and in particular the biological expectations that are thrust upon every woman by society. The film is called Rosemary’s Baby, but Rosemary never really seems to feel like the baby is her own. The aforementioned nosey neighbors and the aloof doctors around her seem to be telling her what is right for the baby, while whatever plans or aspirations she has for herself as a mother seem secondary.

Also, the use of the dismissive husband as a villain in this movie feels kind of unlike any other relationship that I’ve seen in a horror movie. Maybe it’s because John Cassavetes has a kind of sensitive machismo, or because his dismissal of Rosemary’s paranoia is so subtle, he seems like the kind of guy a girl could trust. Well, except for the whole bit about him getting all scratchy and basically raping her while she’s out cold. But the fact that he’s up to things behind her back while exhibiting the veneer of a caring husband, feels like the stuff out of a domestic drama, and yet makes an all the more effective horror movie.

And you could certainly make the case that Guy Woodhouse (what a delightfully wholesome name for a very unwholesome character), is a stand-in for Polanski, and you might be on to something. But I’m just gonna take the “separate the art from the artist” approach, and say I don’t know. You do have to remember the movie is based on a novel Polanski (supposedly) faithfully adapted, and not everything in a movie has to be attributed to its director, considering there are typically thousands of talented, hard-working people involved in the making of a film. And whether you want to label Rosemary’s Baby as feminist, misogynistic, or both, the fact of the matter is, it captures the horrors of being a woman like few films ever have, regardless of whether the director behind it has inflicted horror on women in real life. Which, of course, is no excuse. But that’s all I got.