Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Ira Levin, Roman Polanski
Actors: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
To believe or not to believe? That is the operative question of this film. At every second you are questioning what is real and what isn't. This is just one method Polanski used to try and induce fear and tension. Rosemary's Baby is classified as a horror film. Yet it has no jump scares, no scary imagery, no gruesome content, nothing truly disturbing. So how can this film be considered a horror? Well, Polanski managed to wisely use various techniques in order to induce the sense of fear in the person watching. These methods are so tricky to pull off right because they straddle a fine line between "edge of your seat" tension, and bored to death. I'm glad to say that Polanski managed to achieve the former. So let's dive into this complex film and see how a seemingly bare-bones horror film is able to have viewers biting their fingernails in dread and anticipation.
One of the key elements of creating the atmosphere of horror is the perspective that is taken for the film. Throughout the whole film we are looking at everyone through the eyes of Rosemary. We see the world as she is seeing it. This in turn gives the viewers the feeling that something may be off. As the film starts out, everything seems relatively fine. The neighbors may be annoying but it isn't something to warrant suspicion yet. As the story progresses, Rosemary starts to uncover certain truths which puts this perception in the minds of the viewers that it is the only truth. We as viewers agree with her that some shady stuff has been happening. So at this point I was convinced, that everyone around her was using her and that some shit is going to go down. Yet, as the film went on into the final third act, I started to doubt myself and Rosemary. I kept seeing that literally everyone around her was so adamant that she is just imagining things. This was especially true when she went to Doctor Hill and he gave her away. I thought to myself "Maybe she really is crazy and all of these happenings are just coincidences". This constant doubt was one of the reasons that kept me on edge and had my eyes glued to the screen. Like Rosemary, I wanted to know the truth, no matter the cost. This constant internal battle that both the viewer and Rosemary are having tie in to the final scene. As she approaches her "baby", she starts rocking it, and gives this look that she finally accepted what has happened. And it was at that precise moment that we also knew that everything she feared did happen. It wasn't all in her head. That really did happen. Which leaves the viewer with this sour taste, that even though the truth has been confirmed, it is not what they wanted out of it, and they have to live with that. Just how Rosemary learned to live with it as well.
I want to shift gears a bit and talk about some of the themes presented in the film. One of the key themes is related to gender/age politics. In the film there seems to be a very clear cut divide between the amount of respect and authority is given to certain genders and age groups. In terms of gender politics, it is very clear within Guy and Rosemary's relationship. We see that throughout the film, Guy constantly has the final say in everything. Rosemary constantly feels the need to reveal everything to him and ask for his permission whereas he doesn't. Furthermore, Guy "not wanting to miss the baby date" was just brushed off as playful marital rape, whereas if it were the other way around I don't believe he would be thrilled with what had occurred. In terms of the age politics, we see that clearly within the cult. Age plays a huge role in giving the characters a sense of authority. Since they are much older, their suggestions and demands supposedly come from a "wise" place which makes Rosemary compliant at first. Another key theme is the parallel between the current story and the story of Christ. There are too many indications that there is this connection. Mary and Rosemary are very similar in names for the mother. Furthermore, Mary gives birth to the Son of God according to the Christian faith, whereas Rosemary has given birth to the Son of Satan. Both women struggle, but each in their own way. There might be more to this subtext than just these simple comparisons however I would need to watch the film a couple more times to fully unearth these connections.
Aside from the way the story was presented, another key aspect might this film even more frightening than it should have been, which is the music. The music at times, was so eerie that it made me uncomfortable in my seat. The screeching orchestra playing as Rosemary discovers another piece of evidence instantly sends shivers down my spine. Obviously the music alone isnt the only thing that is helping towards creating more fear. The score is coupled with aspects that keep enhancing that tension. For example, Mia Farrow's chilling acting. The way she screeches and fears for her life creates a sort of dread that both Rosemary and the audience members cannot escape. All of these elements play together to create this haunting film. One that does not resort to cheap tricks to induce fear. Rather it uses clever story structure along with a lingering sense of "wrongness" to give the audiences that horror film experience.
All in all, this film is a great example of how to innovate in the horror film genre. Horror/fear are very interesting emotions when it comes to what you want to convey. When making a horror film, you actually want the viewers to feel uncomfortable, which isn't the case for many other genres. However, the difficult part is to achieve that feeling without resorting to cheap methods that have no creative backbone to them. Rosemary's Baby manages to do just the opposite, by having a very well crafted film that manages to give you that sensation in very unlikely ways. Yes, this film isn't for everybody. However, it is an important film in the genre of horror, and anyone who is trying to fully understand how far this genre can go should watch this film. Unfortunately the film is made by a very awful person, but hey, that's the entertainment industry I guess. They can't all be angels. Just like Rosemary's Baby.