Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

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Food: A quick and easy place to get gourmet pizza is a spot called Sauce Pizzeria on 12th street, between 1st and 2nd avenue. It is pricey, especially compared to the dollar slice, as a fancier slice can be up to $6.00 – but it is fresh and provides a variety of opulent toppings and comes with a dipping sauce called Grandmothers Tomato Gravy.

Film: “Rosemary’s Baby” has long been referenced as one of the greatest films ever made, specifically in the horror genre. The film is unhurried and grim, the elements of horror peering in ever so slowly, deliberately paced to ensure that we, along with Rosemary, almost don’t realize the horrors that are happening, until it is too late.

Roman Polanski’s career changing American film, released in 1968, stars a young couple, the titular Rosemary (stunningly brought to life by Mia Farrow) and her husband, Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes, actor, but also well-regarded Independent filmmaker, notably for ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ ‘Shadows’ & ‘Faces’). The Woodhouse’s are newlyweds looking for a new apartment where they can start a family and life together, when they come across a gorgeous apartment in the city. The couple giggles and breezes over an ominous mention by their realtor that the previous residents died in the home, and they instead admire the herb garden she had and question her decision to place an armoire in front of a linen closet. Soon they have moved in, begin decorating (with immaculate taste, I might add!) and are welcomed by the neighbors.

While doing laundry one evening, Rosemary meets and becomes fast friends with a young girl named Terri. Terri lives with an older couple by the name of the Castevet’s and while joking about the creepy basement laundry room, she shows Rosemary her antique pomander ball charm that the couple gifted her, which contains Tannis root. Eerily, the following day, Terri has fallen brutally to her death and is found mangled on the sidewalk in front of the apartment.

Mr. and Mrs. Castevet’s shortly thereafter invite the Woodhouses to dine at their apartment, and a neighborly friendship ensues. It is clear from the initial gathering that Guy is taken with the Castevet’s, whereas Rosemary is more guarded. She finds their kindness generous, but overbearing and yearns for more privacy – time to herself and with her husband. One evening, Rosemary passes out, perhaps from too much wine, and has a series of terrorizing dreams where she is raped by the devil himself. Only she wakes up to find the scratches on her body are real. Her husband alarmingly insists that if she wants to become pregnant they cannot miss a night, and that he had sex with her while she was passed out.

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” (2017) was marketed to bear striking resemblance to the original “Rosemary’s Baby” posters causing film buffs to deliberate over whether or not there would be any connection. Ultimately, there was no direct sequel-type relation discussed once “mother!” was released, but I cannot help but point out all of the similarities. Aronofsky’s film is about a woman, Jennifer Lawrence, who takes pride in her home, her adoration for her husband, and waits anxiously for the arrival of their first born baby. However, during this process, she is bombarded by obnoxious guests, fans of her husband, who do not respect her space and feel increasingly insufferable. Once Rosemary becomes pregnant, her relationship to the Castevet’s feels similarly contemptible, only made worse by her husbands ignorance of her feelings, and blinded infatuation for them. They even recommend an OBGYN, Dr. Abraham Sapirstein, instead of Dr. Hill, the one her friends had recommended, who perpetually ignores her complaints about intense pain and discomfort throughout her pregnancy. Parallels continue to arise when Lawrence’s character in “mother!” continues to lose her own autonomy, and loses control of the fate of her family. The difference is where Aronofsky wacks his viewers over the head with his exaggerated symbology and layered interpretations of meaning, Polanski whispers the implications with sophisticated hints, so discreet that they almost feel hidden. As is with most true-to-life tales, only in hindsight are we able to catch the alarm bells ringing, and by then, it is too late.

“Rosemary’s Baby” is based off of Ira Levin’s novel about modern-day witches and demons, so there is a looming horror that resonates throughout the film. However, for a significant portion of the film, the true horror erupts from the painfully constricting gender roles and misogyny. The dynamic between the two neighbors never feels far fetched because of the proximity and likelihood of these characters (not to mention the incredible performances between both the lead actresses, Farrow as well as Ruth Gordon). We sympathize with Rosemary as her suspicion and desperation grows. Her husband is gaslighting her, her doctor ignores her pleas, and her domesticated lifestyle separates her from the outside world. She lacks agency because of the systematic oppression put on women at this time, and even when she attempts to navigate around her husbands permission and get help elsewhere, she is not taken seriously. Before the macabre display of witchcraft ever enters her mind, Rosemary is living in the psychological horror of her everyday life: facing manipulation, claustrophobia, isolation and an inability to defend herself without opposition.

Polanski crafts this film so well, each scene quietly and meticulously building on itself, that when the inevitable and dreaded outcome finally comes, it is no surprise. The brilliance of the film is the fact that we as the audience are with Rosemary as she discovers what is happening, but we, like her, are just unable to stop it.

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