‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and Psychological Terror Through Body Politics

Rosemary’s Baby, originally a novel written by Ira Levin released in 1967, was thought to be a literary masterpiece back in its day — a horror novel, but one full of doubt and mystery — an uncommon occurrence as horror was usually entirely predictable back then. Levin’s novel turned screenplay eventually ended up becoming one of my favorite films of all time.

A film like Rosemary’s Baby says more about women’s health and women’s rights than director Roman Polanski ever stood for — the type of man who thinks birth control gives women too much power, masculinizes them, and believes that gender equality is, in his own words, “idiotic.” On top of that, back in 1977, Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful intercourse with 13-year-old Samantha Geimer— making him not precisely the best director to explore the politics of the female body, and the last type of person we would ever want to be associated with Rosemary’s Baby.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – source: Paramount Pictures

The titular character of Rosemary Woodhouse — portrayed flawlessly by the ethereal Mia Farrow, is a timid and soft-spoken young woman who longs for freedom in her skin. Rosemary moves into a high-rise building in New York City with her husband Guy (John Cassavetes), where they seemingly have a perfect and flourishing relationship.

The strange and quirky neighbors in their building, The Castevets, quickly choose Rosemary as the perfect candidate for a disturbing plan. They approach Guy with an ultimatum: if he offers up Rosemary to carry Satan’s child, he will gain success, fame, and glory in his career as an actor. Unbeknownst to Rosemary and behind her back — Guy makes a deal with the devil. Rosemary is raped, surrounded by a coven of witches — assured it was all just a dream. “It was fun, in a necrophile sort of way,” Guy says when she wakes the next morning, her back and sides covered in bloody scratches. Ultimately, everyone in this poor woman’s life works and conspires against her to make sure that Satan’s first and only living son makes it out of her alive.

Rosemary's Baby
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – source: Paramount Pictures

When Rosemary wakes up covered in red scratches, Guy makes fun of her for “getting so drunk that she blacked out,” — trying to hide his guilty conscience. It becomes evident that he would rather have Rosemary think that he had sex with her while she was unconscious than telling her the truth.

Rosemary’s first moment of actual realization comes when she throws a party — invited friends who confirm that being in constant pain is not a normal part of pregnancy. The crowd in the kitchen and the women tell her, “pain like that is a warning that something isn’t right.” She is relieved to find that her concerns are valid until Guy responds by saying her friends are “not very bright bitches who should mind their own business!”

Rosemary’s biggest fear in the film is one that’s all too familiar for millions of women  around the world –  “what if I didn’t have control over my body?” Rosemary’s body is taken by her husband, by her doctor, her neighbors, and even Satan himself. The only person who doesn’t have a say in her reproduction is Rosemary. She makes many failed attempts to free herself and her unborn child from the horror of what she believes to be happening to her life and her body — we watch on and follow her as she discovers at the very end what the audience knew all along.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – source: Paramount Pictures

The scariest part of Rosemary’s Baby is that it shows us just how awful it is to be a woman in society. Rosemary seemingly had everything she could ever ask for: a charming actor for a husband, a new apartment in one of the best cities in the world, and a baby on the way. Rosemary’s Baby shows us that the world could give you absolutely everything except control of your rights.

Polanski has arguably made one of the most iconic films in cinematic history — struggling to enjoy it when we think about the unforgivable mistakes he has made, and the shameful crimes he has committed. I’ve learned, through trial and tribulation, that art can stand on its own apart from his curator — that to me is the beauty of cinema.

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