Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby – 1968

Director – Roman Polanski

Starring – Mia Farrow, John Cassavettes, Ruth Gordon, Sydney Blackmer, and Charles Grodin

It is relatively rare that all of a given director’s films (of the ones that I’ve seen, mind you) are of such a caliber that each defies the expectations put forth by the last. Even some directors of what I would consider the greatest films of all time have their bad ones. Coppola has The Rainmaker, Spielberg has the last 30 minutes of everything he’s made since Schindler’s List, and Scorsese has Bringing Out the Dead. My point is…it is extremely hard to make one great film, let alone multiple ones. It seems however that Roman Polanski is one of a select few directors who, through each of his films that I’ve seen, remains consistantly engaging, provocative, and inventive.

Now granted, I certainly haven’t seen everything he’s made, but so far he’s off to a great start. But even with his talent’s as a filmmaker resolutely confirmed, there was an awful lot of lot of hype surrounding Rosemary’s Baby. Does it stand the test of time, like “The Godfather” has? Or does it suffer the same aging and loss of context as something like “The Graduate”? The news is good, it easily stands the test of time, and remains a throuroughly suspenseful, intellegent, and effective film.

The story is fairly straight forward, a young couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, move into a new apartment building that has a history of tragedy, and misfortune. The neighbors are strange, and manage to barge their way into the lives of the Woodhouses, pushing their homemade remedies, and decorating ideas off on the young couple, and all the while Guy is busy with work leaving Rosemary alone in the big, empty apartment a lot. Though an initial friendship is struck with their neighbors, the Castevets, they seem to surround and smother the still wary Rosemary. Guy seems to take to them more and more as they make themselves even more at home once Rosemary becomes pregnant.

The Castevet’s start seeming stranger and stranger, eventually leading Rosemary to question whether or not they have alterior motives. The suspense builds and builds, relentlessly pushing Rosemary closer and closer to the edge of sanity.

Firstly, it should be said that Polanski seems to have a real curiosity with the relationship between lonliness and ones world view. Each of his films deals with the struggle to maintain the latter while dealing with the former. Also, in each of his films there seems to be two main characters (one inanimate and the other human), the human character (often played by a waif-like, attractive, young woman), and the apartment in which the main character is living. Oh sure there are other characters that play into the story, but none of them leave the same indelible impression on the story that these two characters do.

The apartment in Rosemary’s Baby serves as a launching pad for the film’s paranoia and mistrust. It is depicted as huge, yet it always seems cramped. The ceilings are vaulted, but the apartment itself is so deep and maze-like we feel as if our characters, and the audience as well, will never escape. This place is a prison, and Rosemary is it’s prisoner.

As the film starts, Rosemary is bright and cheerful. Her relationship is strong, and she has a wide network of friends, but as the film progresses, she is consistently more and more cut off from the outside world. The apartment is equal parts sanctuary and menace. As if the neighbors and history of the apartment weren’t enough she has been getting more and more ill during her pregnancy, resulting in her staying locked away inside, under the watchful eye of her husband and their neighbors.

It is this balance which is most delicate in the film. If the strange-ness of the setting or situation was heaped on too quickly, or if it wasn’t strange enough, the crux of the conflict would have been ruined, but Polanski gets it absolutely right. He let’s us dwell just long enough to send our minds racing right towards the edge, right after Rosemary. She and the audience are together in our suspicions, not sure of what is real and what is simply paranoia.

As well as being superbly constructed, Rosemary’s Baby is also expertly cast. Sidney , and Ruth Gordon are pitch perfect as the intrusive and possibly evil Castevets. The always great, John Cassavettes is equal parts caring, strong, and yet still completely suspect at the same time as Guy Woodhouse, however the performance most central and most integral to the success of the film is Mia Farrow, Rosemary.

Farrow doesn’t play the role as the victim. Rosemary isn’t so much helpless as much as she is facing insurmountable odds. Despite the fact that she is the focus of the conspiracy (or is she?), she is actually the strongest character, not to mention the most interesting of the story.  It is a testament to Farrow’s skill as an actor, and to Polanski’s as a director that this delicate balance wasn’t lost in the shuffle.  Instead, Rosemary’s Baby was, and remains a powerful example of what can be achieved through the medium of film.

So the long and short of it is that, if you haven’t already, you should see this film. It really stands up to the test of time, and truly deserves it’s place on this list!

“Mia Farrow has a cute haircut!” – Ashley

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10 thoughts on “Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

  1. Pingback: 1001 Movies – The Complete List « 1001 Movies I Must Comment On Before I Die!

  2. I’ve never been a big fan of “splatter” horror films, so “Rosemary’s Baby” ended up being EXACTLY my kind of horror film — one based on menace and suspense and slow, deliberate plotting. Ruth Gordon is simply stupendous; she deserved that Oscar.

    • I could not agree more! There seemed to be a spate of movies from the mid sixties through the seventies that relied on actual craftsmanship rather than shock value or gore. Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Alien are all good examples of this. I’m not sure why this technique fell out of favor over the years, but it is definitely due for a comeback! I didn’t realize (mostly because I never looked) that she had won an oscar for that role, that’s awesome!

  3. This film is more proof of the attitude that “less is more.” How much would be lost if we saw everything here? Polanski knows precisely how much we need to see and how much should be left to the imagination. This movie still fires on all cylinders.

    • I would totally put Rosemary’s Baby at the level of The Exorcist (which is currently my favorite horror/suspense film of all time), which is saying a lot! Although he isn’t nearly as effective as he was in his heyday, Polanski is still turning out quality work. I loved (and I might be the only one) The 13th Gate, and The Pianist, and I really liked Ghost Writer.

    • Really? I had heard this was pretty good. I have yet to see it, but I might have to watch it just to see if it holds up. It might actually be one of the movies I am reviewing so, maybe I’ll have to write about it too.

  4. Polanski’s films have always kept me spell-bound. This gifted Director manages to bring you to the edge of your seat in Rosemary’s Baby and he does it without the blood and gore while holding all your senses hostage.

  5. Nice review.

    I liked the movie but it did make me wonder how many times Satan’s baby has to get born? If these movies are to be believed, what with the Omen, House of the Devil, etc., Satan’s kids are all over the place. No wonder they’re so rude in the cinema.

  6. This film frightened the crap out of me the first time I saw it! One of my favorite horror films of all time!

    Hey would you mind adding my film site jarwatchesfilms.com to your blogroll? I’ll do the same!

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