“To 1966 — the year One!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
What arguably makes Rosemary’s Baby so powerful (and, counter to Peary’s claim, so scary) is the authenticity of its setting and situation. At a (pre-Lib) time when women had not yet come into their own — a time when a housewife’s most cherished dream was [supposed to be] having a baby — Farrow’s yearning for a healthy pregnancy would naturally be all-consuming; indeed, nearly every scene of the film revolves around either Farrow’s desire for a baby, or some aspect of how her pregnancy is proceeding, to an extent I can’t recall in any other movie. Meanwhile, to have one’s husband wavering in his devotion (or at least his attention and loyalty) is perhaps the ultimate fear for a vulnerable mother-to-be, at a time when her “nesting instinct” and desire for safety and security is stronger than ever — which makes Cassavetes’ gradual transformation from loving and playful husband to an increasingly distracted and self-absorbed heel come across as especially harsh.
Each element of this masterfully constructed psychological horror film “works” — from William Fraker’s cinematography, to Polanski’s unusual camera placements (he often films scenes through doorways), to fine use of sound and music, to judicious set designs and strategic use of outdoor New York locales, to the perfect casting of each character. Farrow, of course, gives the film’s stand-out performance: her eventual paranoia is palpable (could anyone else have inhabited this role in quite the same way?). But I’m actually almost as fond of Cassavetes (with his devilish arched eyebrows) in the critical part of her self-absorbed husband, a man whose every statement and sentiment is eventually suspect. Meanwhile, kooky Gordon (in hideously over-the-top makeup and outfits) and Blackmer (deceptively genteel) are scarily believable as elderly neighbors who hide their diabolical beliefs behind an air of nosy normalcy. Other supporting roles are equally well-handled — including Victoria Vetri as a grateful former-druggie whose new friendship with Rosemary is cut tragically short, to Ralph Bellamy as the “esteemed” doctor who tries to reassure Rosemary that her painful pregnancy is “normal”.
Another key to the power of Rosemary’s Baby is how Polanski takes his time building tension throughout the suspense-filled narrative; we’re allowed ample opportunity to witness Farrow and Cassavetes’ happiness in their new apartment before hints are revealed about the terror that’s to come. Equally effective is the fact that we’re never sure exactly how much each character (Cassavetes in particular) knows, and from what point; rewatching the film allows one to appreciate the layers of nuance and ambiguity Polanski strategically inserts throughout just about every scene. For instance, is the look Cassavetes gives to the African-American elevator operator near the beginning of the movie significant or merely incidental? Is Elisha Cook (the real estate agent who shows the couple their new apartment) “in” on the proceedings, or an innocent bystander? Are the accidents that befall Cassavetes’ acting rival (Tony Curtis, heard in voice only) and Farrow’s best friend (Maurice Evans) coincidental, or nefariously instigated? And, despite the apparent lack of ambiguity in the disturbing final scene, we still can’t help wondering: is what we’re seeing really “real”, or simply a figment of Farrow’s by now psychotically disturbed imagination?
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)