Rosemary’s Baby

Part of my “Netflix Presents: Movies I Really Should Have Seen” series, I guess. Spoilers, of course. Also triggers for severe nonconsensualness and pregnancy trauma.

Two things really stood out about this movie.

Okay, three things, and the first is that–as I’m neither religious nor planning on having kids, I guess–the “your longed-for child is actually the son of Satan” plot didn’t terrify me nearly as much as the mid-sixties decor. And clothes. Rejecting racism, greed, and unjust warfare is great, The Sixties; rejecting the concept of a waistline is not so lovely. When Rosemary’s maternity clothes differ only in size from her pre-maternity outfits, I am disturbed.

More seriously, it’s a neat and probably inadvertent illustration of how creepily patriarchal the sixties still was. There’s a bit at the end where Rosemary goes to her doctor and tells him all about the Satanists and the evil spells and the yadda yadda yadda, which, to me, felt really dumb*: of *course* he’s not going to believe you, you’re rambling about witches! Just tell him your previous doctor was giving you really sketchy medical advice–true–and that your husband threw a hissy when you talked about not going to him any more–also true–so you don’t feel safe around him any more and could he examine you without telling either of them…oh, wait, it’s 1965. (There are probably some places today where things aren’t much better, horrifyingly enough, but I don’t think it’s as widespread an assumption that of *course* your obstetrician will tell your husband everything if you don’t bring the Satanists into it.) Yow.

Speaking of the husband…gaaah. Guy, just because you let Satan impregnate your wife doesn’t mean you have to *act* the part, y’know? I could see his asshattery later in the movie as a coping mechanism, I guess–I feel really bad about this thing I did, so I’m going to be horrible to you to convince you and myself that I don’t care, or something–if he hadn’t really been kind of a jerk even before he sold out to the devil.

That seems not to have taken much convincing, by the way. Rosemary and Minnie are washing dishes, they come back in, and Guy’s gone from Sort of a Jerk to Really Really Sketchy. How did this conversation go?

Roman: “So, Satan–”
Guy: “Yes please!”

Anyhow, it’s either a commentary on the time or the relationship or both that Rosemary stays with Guy. Deal with the devil aside…I mean, I *suppose* I can overlook the gratuitous insulting her hairstyle bits: she asked, and maybe he’s Compulsively Honest Guy. (I sort of hate Compulsively Honest Guy, personally, but that’s another story.) But he flips out at her because she doesn’t finish her dessert–which, yes, is because he wants her to eat the Satan Roofies**, but she doesn’t know that–and she just sort of shrugs and scrapes it into a napkin, like he’s her dad and she’ll get in trouble for not cleaning her plate. Creepy! He then as much as states that he had violent sex with her when she was passed out–and “fun, in a necrophiliac way” is not a line that anyone should use at any point ever–and she’s…disturbed, mildly, but more like she’s disappointed by his inconsiderateness than like she’s realized that she’s married to a sociopath. And again, when he’s flipping out over the potential obstetrician change, there’s no real recognition that maybe this is really not an okay way for your husband to be acting.

I don’t know. Either we’re supposed to believe that Guy’s actions are, without the Satan, mildly dysfunctional relationship behavior and not something a woman would leave over under the media standards of the time, or we’re supposed to believe that Rosemary is so used to her husband being Controlly O’Dramapants that nothing he does really seems like a danger sign until Hutch starts delivering warnings about the devil. Either way…

…ladies and gentlemen of the jury: GAH.

On a less creepy and more storytelling-relevant plane, I’ve been wanting to do a post on villain goals for a while now, and this movie does a pretty good job in terms of showing villains whose motives we don’t really understand that well. The Satanists, well, worship Satan, want him and his son to rule the world, etc etc. Roman is in it hereditarily–and possibly for vengeance–and we can extrapolate from Guy that maybe most of them got some favor or other from His Dark Yadda Yadda, but we don’t know what it is. (In Minnie Castavet’s case, we know only that it clearly *wasn’t* the ability to make her lipstick line up with her actual lips.) That works out okay, though, at least in my view, because the movie is very tightly focused on Rosemary, who has no idea what’s going on here.*** The Satanists are pretty much the Faceless Conspiracy until maybe the last half hour, so while we need to know their goals, we don’t really need their individual motives.

It’s a well-put-together film, and I recommend it. I recommend seeing it on Netflix, because…Polaaaanksi….but it’s good stuff for non-gory, non-jump-scene horror. And the mid-sixties.

ETA: The verdict, talking with a friend, was that Rosemary should totally have left Guy, both because he’s a controlling jerkface and because, frankly, I would so watch a show about the Antichrist and his single mom. Sharing an apartment with her old college friend who *also* has kids and no husband. In the sixties. Get on this, HBO.

*It’s actually a semi-major pet peeve of mine. If you know that talking about the aliens or the witches or the alien witches or the Illuminati makes you sound delusional, and there’s a way you can get help without mentioning them, then why are you not going with that?
**Another part where this movie is disturbing in a way that the director probably didn’t plan. More so because the director is…Polanski. Yeaaaaaaah.
***The movie is one of those Crying Game type things where everyone knows the basic facts by now, and I don’t know to what extent the trailer or box art spoiled things at the time, but in the movie itself? The Grand Plan actually doesn’t become clear for ages: there are wonky neighbors that are up to something, but we don’t know what, and then maybe the Satanists are trying to sacrifice the baby, and only near the very end is it clear that no, Antichrist.


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I'm Izzy. I write stuff: mostly vaguely fantasy stuff, and most notably the following books: Hickey of the Beast, published March 2011 by Candlemark and Gleam Romance novels from Sourcebooks: No Proper Lady Lessons After Dark Legend of the Highland Dragon The Highland Dragon's Lady Night of the Highland Dragon Highland Dragon Warrior Highland Dragon Rebel Highland Dragon Master I also like video games, ballroom dancing, and various geeky hobbies like LARPing. I have been known to voluntarily purchase and eat circus peanuts. Like, a whole bag at once.

13 thoughts on “Rosemary’s Baby”

  1. 1965 was still on the cusp between the ’50s and the “so-called ’60s.” All the above-mentioned attitudes in that movie are historically accurate, alas and gah!

    The fashions, too.

    Margot Adler reports an actual debate within the Berkeley Free Speech Movement about the same year, on the topic, What is the place of women within the Free Speech Movement? Official conclusion of the *Free Speech Movement*, for Gods’ sake: on their backs in bed!!!

    Most of the ’60s were still every bit as misogynistic as the ’50s, though Polanski was rather more so than most. I began to see a change only in the ’70s.

    1. Oh, eep. I’d heard that quote around in a few places, and the sixties…yeah. The progressive movement didn’t initially do a lot for women, for sure.

      (I did a whole paper, back in high school, on, among other things, how the Manson girls were reflections of the “girls say yes to boys who say no”/staying home and baking pot brownies/etc expectations of the sixties. I was a little creepy in high school.)

  2. I think we’re always supposed to see Guy as a bad person and Rosemary as too naive to realise it. You notice how, for instance, when they socialise with Hutch, it’s always Rosemary he wants to see – in fact, the last time we see him, he actually leaves as soon as Guy comes home? Or how during the party, there’s a ton of people in the apartment all having a good time, all kissing and congratulating Rosemary fondly, and all ignoring Guy completely? As far as the non-Satanist world is considered, Rosemary is popular and Guy is That Guy We Put Up With Because Hey, She’s Our Friend. Rosemary’s just too much of a meliorist to realise it.

    I also think it makes more sense to assume Guy is a nasty piece of work from the outset, because only a nasty piece of work would agree to do that to his wife. The way he’s played, Guy is a bundle of negative energy from the beginning: making nervy wisecracks that aren’t actually funny, making sure other people are always the butt of a joke, even it he only suspects a joke might be in the offing. He laughs it off, but he’s what my friend from Belfast calls ‘pass-remarkable’ – someone who’s always passing uncharitable remarks on others.

    I don’t know how inadvertent I’d call it. Polanski – well, Polanski. Yeah. But Ira Levin’s books were often little fairytales about what can happen to you if you don’t stand up for yourself, girls – this is the guy who gave us The Stepford Wives, after all – and Polanski, whatever else he was, was too good a filmmaker to mess up the central moral of the story.

    (Me rambling on about Rosemary’s Baby with some interesting comments from mmy and hapax here, if you have time to kill: You probably don’t, so I’ll summarise: yep, nobody likes Guy.)

    1. Good post–you caught me during lunch break! I like a lot of the issues you discuss, and I’m inclined to agree with you re: the feminism thing. Rosemary herself is not a feminist, I’d say, but neither the movie nor the book praises her actions. (And I, despite being pro-choice and not wanting kids, didn’t have a problem with her not having an abortion: she wants the kid–she may, in fact, be using the pregnancy to retroactively justify the rape back then, in a “but it turned out okay” way–she’s been told that the pain will stop at some point, gritting her teeth and dealing is a reasonable enough course of action.*)

      On reading, I think you’re right that Guy’s jerkitude is intentional: I didn’t catch the party thing, but I do recall Hutch even making some kind of “oh, God, sweetie, he’s an ass” comment relatively late in the film. (Aw, Hutch.**) Which leads to a moral I quite like: Don’t Marry That Guy, for He Will Rent Your Uterus to Satan and You Won’t Even Notice. Or maybe, more seriously: It’s Okay to Set Boundaries, No, Really.

      Because, really, Rosemary’s excessive niceness is not helping her at all. It keeps her with Guy; it gets her involved with the Castavets in the first place; it’s just not a helpful character trait in this story. (It doesn’t help, either, that Mia Farrow looks uber-childlike, particularly with the short haircut. Good stylistic choice there.) So I quite like the idea that this is Levin’s fairytale, and that the moral is about looking out for your own interests and standing up for yourself. It’s better for you–and it’s better for the world, assuming that the world is better off without the Antichrist.

      The choice to tell Dr. Hill everything comes off as less an intentional comment on the patriarchy, to me, but I think it could be read either way. (I admit that my reaction was “Really, Rosemary? *Really*?” when she started mentioning Satanists to him, and I think that it does come off a little TSTL if not for the time period.) Could just be very subtle–I’d credit Levin with that.

      As far as the last scene goes…hm. I always put it down, particularly in the movie, to Rosemary being sort of beaten down (and coming off of drugs) and defeated and not really seeing anywhere else to go, or having the willpower to take another option. (In the book, well, she does think she can change him, and also throwing him out the window would probably have been pretty suicidal at that stage.) A bleak ending, but it’s a film about the Antichrist, so.

      *Ironically enough, a lot of the scenes where she’s doubling over in pain and clutching her surrounds and stuff reminded me of the first couple months I had my Paragard. Which was probably just me being a wuss, but still: if I put up with it in order to not have kids, I’m not going to complain about someone enduring in order to give birth.
      **I was really sad he died, both because I liked him and because I would have so watched a sequel where he and Rosemary’s take-no-guff friend from the party team up to figure out what’s going on here.

  3. As far as the last scene goes…hm. I always put it down, particularly in the movie, to Rosemary being sort of beaten down (and coming off of drugs) and defeated and not really seeing anywhere else to go, or having the willpower to take another option.

    I’d interpret it a bit differently (I keep trying to finish a follow-up post on the subject but, well, baby). The sound of your own baby crying is the worst sound in the world. Did you ever read The Chrysalids where the narrator talks about his psychic sister’s distress call being like a hook pulling in his brain? Yep, that’s about right. It’s specifically evolved to motivate you even when you’re tired and sore and hormonal and generally feeling like the absolute last thing you want to do is get up and deal with something, and it works. It’s completely impossible to think straight while it’s happening. You just have to make it stop, and you’ll do pretty much anything. (The really intense phase of that reaction tends to pass once the kid learns to make eye contact, because then they can look at you pitifully and wring your conscience rather than drilling your brain. A different motivator, but also effective.)

    In addition, I think it’s accurate that what really pushes her over the edge is seeing the egregious Laura-Louis rocking him ‘too fast’. You may not be in the mood, but if you see somebody else handling your child, and doing it wrong, a kind of primordial jealousy kicks in, and again, you have to do something.

    This isn’t woman-specific, because involved fathers stress out at the crying too, but if Rosemary is going to react the way she does, I think the motivators are well chosen. And then she manages to make him stop crying, and there’s nothing as bonding as finding that your child responds to you…

  4. Huh, I can see that.

    Sounds absolutely terrifying from my perspective, granted: I’m very glad you and others of my female friends are doing the having-kids thing, because…well, awesome people should, and everything I hear about the experience makes me want to hide under a bed somewhere. 😉 But yeah, that’s a whole different perspective, and it makes a lot of sense.

  5. …I have a couple of Sixties-era dresses that are just tents. You could pitch one and camp in it for a couple nights. It’s impressive.


    This is also on my “Please, Netflix, correct my gaping movie knowledge holes” list, and I’m glad I’m going into it forewarned about the “stupid Guy tricks” thing…I’ll be sure to watch it with plenty of booze and someone who doesn’t mind me making annoyed commentary all throughout.

  6. While I was too young to think about sex in the sixties, my impression of the times is that Guy having sex while she’s asleep wouldn’t have been seen as quite as horrible as it is now. Which is not to dispute that everything else about him makes him a jerk.
    There was a TV movie sequel (long before Levin’s Son of Rosemary), Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby–your idea sounds a lot more fun (it was bad. Very).

  7. I’m with you on the whole “Guy is a total jerk-face” thing, but not digging the mid-60’s fashion and decor in this movie is simply a crime against style itself. This movie is ICONIC in the world of fashion and design! Even the amazing and hi-larious Ruth Gordon looks darling in her Pucci ensembles! As a pregnant and (former) waif-like woman with short hair, I’m so looking forward to donning a fashionable baby blue mid sixties nightgown this Halloween for my easiest and most fashionable costume yet. Just add knife and devil baby.

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