Thursday, 20 January 2011

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Fig. 1
The second film in Roman Polanksi's "apartment trilogy", Rosemary's baby tells the story of a couple who move into a new york appartment not knowing that the neighbours are leaders of a satanist coven (or at least that is what the eponymous heroine believes).  The plot unfolds slowly, building a feeling of tension but carefully avoiding doing anything that can't be explained as the pre-natal worries of a woman still getting used to her new home (at least until the climax of the film).  That's not to say that the clues aren't there; as Roger Ebert notes "(Polanski)... gives the audience a great deal of information early in the story, and by the time the movie's halfway over we're pretty sure what's going on in that apartment next door. When the conclusion comes, it works not because it is a surprise but because it is horrifyingly inevitable." (Ebert, 1968).  Of course, many of the clues don't seem significant at the time (for example "Tanas root"), but when the mystery begins to unravel the viewer can't help but join the dots.
An important feature of the film is the way that the appartment changes from a bright, welcoming place to an oppressive prison.  This is achived through a mixture of colour, music and action; the redecoration of the living room in an almost nauseating shade of yellow, the way that the opening bars of Beethoven's Fur Elise play whenever Rosemary is talking to her elderly (and extremely nosy) neighbour in the kitchen, Rosemary's gradual withdrawl from the world as her pregnancy progresses.
Fig. 2
Equally important to the success of the film is the performance of the actors; Mia Farrow puts in a magnificent performance depicting Rosemary's transformation from a happy young woman to a gaunt, paranoid recluse, jumping at every sound (Time, 1968).  Watching, you can't help but feel pity for her, trapped by a conspiracy of those who should be looking after her; when her last friend tries to help her he falls foul of the conspiracy and is silenced by supernatural agents.
It must be noted that the film doesn't rely on special effects to provide its shocks, indeed apart from the very end there is nothing on screen that couldn't happen in everyday life (although you have to hope that you wouldn't be drugged by your neighbours so they can use you in diabolical rituals).  Even the fact that the obstetrician Rosemary seeks assistance from doesn't believe her story and reports her to her alleged persecutors doesn't seem unbelievable (although you do find yourself thinking that he is perhaps somewhat irresponsible - even if she was just suffering from paranoid delusions, would it really be the best medical decision to hand her over to the people she believes are conspiring against her? (Adler, 1968))
It is at the end that the film becomes most disturbing, as Rosemary - having discovered that she was pregnant with the child of satan and her baby has been kidnapped by her satanist neighbours - none the less finds herself compelled to care for her child in a scene strongly reminiscent of the ending of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos (1957).
List of Illustrations 

Figure 1.   William Castle Productions (Org) (1968) Rosemary's Baby Theatrical Poster [digital image] At: (accessed on 20/01/2011)

Figure 2.  William Castle Productions (Org) (1968) Rosemary's Baby [Film Still] At: (accessed on 20/01/2011)


Adler, Renata (1968) Movie Review: Rosemary's Baby In: The New York Times [Online] At: (accessed on 20/01/2011)

Ebert, Roger (1968) Rosemary's Baby In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 20/01/2011)

Time Magazine (1968) New Movies: Rosemary's Baby In: [Online] At:,9171,900239,00.html (accessed on 20/01/2011)

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