Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby ★★★★★

It's 95 degrees outside; people are dying of the heat. But somewhere a baby is crying. Dressed in a white gown and blue robes, Rosemary recalls the Virgin Mary, as she walks through the linen-closet-cum-gates-of-hell to meet her child for the first time, knife poised in hand.

We all know who this baby is - that baby with the red eyes who she finally, gently, rocks in its pitch black bassinet with a subverted cross mobile.

Polanski leads us to this creepy, disturbing and - let's be honest - rather hilarious resolution with skill and subtlety, and so we, too, accept it, just as Rosemary accepts her "off"spring.

This is a story of love gone bad, of the classic swarthy Byronic hero who sells his soul to the devil - not to mention his wife's body - for success. He's a sell-out to the old order.

And it's not just their love that's gone sour: everything is slightly "off" in Rosemary's world - from the rank smell of the tanus root, to those weirdo neighbours (Ruth Gordon is a hoot), to the dark history of the building, to the large dresser inexplicably blocking the closet, to the girl-from-the-laundry-room's sudden defenestration, to Guy's secretive attachment to the old people next door, to Rosemary's raw liver predilection.

It's all "off."

Only Rosemary's friends - the women at the swinging 60s party and her old landlord Hutch - seem to be able to see this. But they have no power to stop the ancient forces put into play.

Rosemary - like that other Mary - is a cipher. She's a vessel for something or someone much greater, and much more important, than she is. So she's raped, pushed, scratched, forced-fed, pinned down, needled, and milked until she goes mad. And even this is used against her: it's called "pre-partum hysteria."

Aside from the suffocating effect of these surreal nightmares and "off"-putting situations, there are a few brief glimmers when we think it'll all turn out for Rosemary, that she'll find the redemption she seeks in a happy, domestic life with her child-to-be (little Jenny or Andy): for example, when she whitens and brightens that gorgeous gothic apartment; when she stops hurting and begins nesting and blooming; when she reaches out to Dr. Hill, and he seems to be a kind-hearted soul. All of these moments give us - and her - hope.

However, there is to be no salvation for Rosemary; she is the hand that rocks the cradle, the bringer of year one. She must be sacrificed to the cause.

While it's hot outside, and the painting on the Castevet's wall foretells of fires and destruction, Polanski leaves us with a vision of anti-motherhood that is stone-cold.

Even the lullaby of the closing credits is "off."

Jane liked these reviews

All