Monday, February 20, 2017

Women in Horror: Rosemary's Baby

Newlyweds Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move to a quaint but rich New York apartment building populated with equally quaint elderly people. Rosemary is a housewife and Guy is an actor trying to gain traction in show business. They are idyllically happy as only newlyweds can be, just starting out their lives together. The first indication that something is wrong is when Minnie and Roman Castavets ward commits suicide. Rosemary meets her in the laundry room and they had a pleasant conversation, so the tragedy comes as a shock. Terry was a drug addict living on the street until the old couple took her in, providing everything for her in a rare act of generosity. The Castavets befriend Rosemary and Guy, inviting them over for dinner and taking them under their wing. When Rosemary becomes pregnant under suspicious circumstances, she is convinced that her neighbors aren't so friendly, but is she crazy or are her neighbors plotting something?

Rosemary is a waifish, beautiful woman with aspirations to be a good mother and devoted wife. At the beginning of the film, she is deliriously happy with her new home and her new husband. She's quite childlike and satisfied with her husband's decisions without question. When they view the apartment, Rosemary begs for Guy to get the apartment like a child begging a parent for a toy. Her life is falling into place until she experiences a nightmarish dream where she is raped. She awakens covered in scratches and her husband claims to have raped her when she was asleep in order to conceive. His offhand admission is insane and he doesn't even recognize it as something to be upset about. This is the first inkling of any opposition from Rosemary. She protests a little, but doesn't make a solid stand against him, returning to complacency.

Rosemary becomes pregnant from the union and asserts herself with a short pixie haircut. Guy immediately and harshly the only thing she's actually chosen for herself. Meanwhile, she goes to Dr. Sapirstein, an obstetrician recommended by the Castavets, who provides her with "natural" remedies instead of vitamins. Her first three months of pregnancy are hellish with severe pain, weight loss, and cravings for raw meat. When she has a party, she realizes how potentially serious her condition could be when her friends are shocked at her condition. Rosemary realizes how isolated she has been with only Guy, the Castevets, and their approved doctor trying to convince her that she is fine. This also rings true today when it's well documented that women in pain or distress are distrusted often by medical professionals. Her friend Hutch volunteers to look into the tannis root she's being fed, but he falls into a coma before he can tell her.

When she suddenly gets better, Rosemary forgets all about any doubts she had about her neighbors or her doctor and becomes absorbed with her pregnancy and preparing for the baby. When Hutch dies, she finally receives his findings, which outs Roman as related to a known Satanist. She jumps to the conclusion that her neighbors, Dr. Sapirstein, and Guy are part of a cult that want to hurt her baby, which isn't so far fetched due to their efforts to isolate her from her young friends and other professionals. Rosemary sneaks out of the house and goes to Dr. Hill, her previous obstetrician, with her concerns that sound insane to him. He placates her and then calls her husband to come pick her up. This moment really illustrates how Rosemary has no agency no matter how hard she tries. Everyone around her treats her like a stubborn child who doesn't know what's best for her. She only seems to gain agency because she wants to protect her child, but is smacked down again and again.

Rosemary goes into labor and wakes up to find everyone around her saying that her child died in childbirth. She's convinced it isn't true and doesn't stop snooping until she finds her baby surrounded by her neighbors and Guy as they hail Satan. It's revealed that Satan impregnated her in exchange for a boost in Guy's career. Guy is one of the biggest scumbags in movie history because he treated his wife as an object to be borrowed and used. He never gave a thought for her as a person; he felt like he owned her and he considered her ordeal rather minor in comparison to what he got in exchange. The Castavets and their Satan worshiping friends are no better as they use the young and fertile as objects to further their goal, going against the natural order. Terry's suicide shows that they've tried this before and their generosity had a dark, exploitative side. The film ends with Rosemary accepting her monstrous child and working with the cult. I personally hated this because Rosemary's journey to realization essentially means nothing. She is satisfied to stay a puppet to her husband and the cult with no agency.

Rosemary's Baby is a well made film that is rightfully a classic. However, I find the actual story so disappointing because of Rosemary's final decision. It's important that it critiques society and their treatment of women, but the ending kind of seems like it's supposed to a happy one because Rosemary gets her baby. I also find Roman Polanski deplorable as a person. He has had a life of tragedy, but it doesn't excuse sexually assaulting a teenage girl and escaping his he received as a result. I was always very against watching his films because of this, but his Apartment trilogy is also universally lauded and influence so many films even today. It's a complex and uncomfortable issue that everyone processes differently.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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