Saturday, November 3, 2012

Film Review: Rosemary's Baby

Year Released: 1968

Written & Directed By: Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Ira Levin
Rating: (4/5 Stars)

Recommended by: Josh & Alex

Spoiler Free Review: 
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.
Roman, does Colonel Sanders know you've been raiding his wardrobe?

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.

Ah, the big honkin' curlers! If that doesn't take me back in time, I don't know what does.
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 and compelling. John Cassevetes offers a portrayal of Guy that is right on the money. Right from the beginning, he has a vaguely loathsome quality, though you're not sure how this will play into the story. Ruth Gordan was also memorable as the friend and neighbor you simultaneously love and can't stand.

Another thing that stood out, for me, was 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 can't discuss this without spoiling the movie, but I'll try to explain in my notes, 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. Most of the fun is in the twists and turns in the story.

My son watched a few minutes of this movie over my shoulder. He claims this wallpaper is the scariest part of the film. :-P Ah, the 60s and 70s! He should have seen some of the wallpaper in my parents' house.

Rambly Thoughts (Spoilers!):
  1. I read the novel Rosemary's Baby in junior high -- I remember hiding it under my desk when I was supposed to be listening to an Earth Science lecture. I had no idea what I was getting into, or what twists were coming -- it creeped me out. Totally creeped me the fuck out. It was awesome! :-)

  2. From what I recall -- and keep in mind that when I read this, Jimmy Carter was in office -- the film's plot follows the book quite closely. There are a few things in the novel I wish had been further developed in the movie. For example, if I remember correctly, Rosemary is dealing with ambivalence about being a "fallen away" Catholic. She's estranged from her family because she married a non-Catholic. This is alluded to lightly in the dream sequence ("Sorry, Catholics only.") When she sneaks into Minnie and Roman's apartment to try to rescue her baby, she prays to a god whose existence she's come to doubt. I thought those aspects of the story enhanced the thematic richness of the story. I wonder why they weren't included in the film?

  3. Even if I didn't already know where this story was going, I would've hated Guy, right from the get-go. He almost didn't even have to open his mouth. He was just such a self-satisfied prick. 

  4. 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.

  5. 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. :-P

  6. I've seen this film twice, trying to keep an open mind. And while I appreciated it much more the second time, 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. And I'm a person who doesn't generally appreciate horror movies. :-) Your mileage may vary.

  7. I occasionally had strange cravings for raw meat during my pregnancies, especially while I was carrying my son. The other night I tried to examine his scalp, under all that messy hair, to check for budding horns or a "666" engraved into his scalp. But strangely, he wouldn't let me. He claims he isn't Devil's Spawn, but I'm not entirely convinced. :-)


  1. Nice review/ramblings. The dream sequence is the first scene that comes to mind when I think of this film. It's so terrifying. And how did Farrow NOT get an Oscar nod that year?!

    Thanks for the link! :)

    1. Agreed! She was terrific in this film and deserved some Oscar attention.

  2. I've always wanted to see this movie, but now I've never been able to bring myself to do it since buying it would financially support Roman Polanski. Maybe after he's dead I can see it.

    1. I feel the same way about Roman Polanski, Liviana. Usually I separate the writer or director from his work, but in this case, I can't do that.

      However, I'm O.K. with borrowing the movie from the library or watching it on Instant Streaming, since that doesn't contribute royalties to Polanski.

    2. Eh, I still see that as contributing royalties. The library bought a copy and will buy another copy if one is used enough. Netflix/Amazon/whoever worked out an agreement with the film company to pay them a certain amount for the rights, and Polanski gets a cut of that.

      I believe, if I saw it, that I could separate the art from the man. I just want a way to see the art without supporting the man. Maybe a used copy?

    3. Yes, I see your point. A used copy is a good option.

  3. This is one of my favs as well and lol about the wallpaper. I need to read the novel at some point.
    I enjoyed your post and the observations too. I agree, the Oriental dude at the end with the camera was tacky. I think there's a thin line between horror and comedy...if they cross that line, it soon goes from scary to cheesey. But the line about 'his fathers eyes', always gives me the chills.

    1. I think you're right about the line between horror and comedy. It's interesting how we all respond differently. One person's creepy is another person's cheesy. I think a lot of it has to do with being in the right mindset when watching a movie.

  4. The scene where Rosemary suddenly screams out, "This is really happening!" is the one that just punched me in the gut.

  5. I was just telling someone about this movie and was wondering if I got the "He has his father's eyes" line right. Thanks for confiring!

  6. Ha, your last comment had me rolling in the aisles! Too funny. :)

  7. Great review! I really love the ending, though - it was so disturbing and Farrow's acting was fantastic in this moment. I think I'm going to feature this one and Repulsion in next Visual Parallels.

    1. I definitely seem to be in a small minority in not liking the ending. :-) I agree about Farrow's acting in the moment, though.


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