Director: Roman Polanski
Production: William Castle Enterprises for Paramount Pictures; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 137 minutes. Released 12 June 1968, New York. Filmed on location in New York City and Playa del Rey, California.
Producers: William Castle with Dona Holloway; screenplay: Roman Polanski, from the novel by Ira Levin; photography: William Fraker; editors: Sam O'Steen and Robert Wyman; sound recordists: Harold Lewis and John Wilkinson; production designer: Richard Sylbert; art director: Joel Schiller; music: Krzysztof Komeda; costume designer: Anthea Sylbert; makeup: Allan Snyder.
Cast: Mia Farrow (Rosemary Woodhouse); John Cassavetes (Guy Woodhouse); Ruth Gordon (Minnie Castevet); Sidney Blackmere (Roman Castevet); Maurice Evans (Hutch); Ralph Bellamy (Dr. Sapirstein); Angela Dorian (Terry); Patsy Kelly (Laura-Louise); Elisha Cook (Mr. Nicklas); Emmaline Henry (Elsie Dunstan); Marianne Gordon (Joan Jellico); Philip Leeds (Doctor Shand); Charles Grodin (Dr. Hill); Hanna Landy (Grace Cardiff); Hope Summers (Mrs. Gordon); Wende Wagner (Tiger); Gordon Connell (Guy's agent); Janet Garland (Nurse); Joan Reilly (Pregnant woman); Tony Curtis (Voice of Donald Baumgart); William Castle (Man at telephone booth).
Award: Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Gordon), 1968.
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Based on Ira Levin's 1967 best-selling novel of the same name, Rosemary's Baby, in Roman Polanski's hands becomes a multi-layered, seminal horror film that exposes collective subconscious fears and cultural anxieties. Satanism and motherhood are only the obvious starting points of inquiry for Polanski, whose body of work includes complex psychological studies such as Knife In The Water (1962), Repulsion (1965), Cul De Sac (1966), Chinatown (1974), and The Tenant (1976).
Polanski's penchant for inverting and subverting clichés serves him particularly well in telling this story of modern city living juxtaposed against ancient rites of witchcraft and devil worship. The paradoxes, dualities, and contrasts are immediately apparent from the film's title sequence as the camera moves slowly across a bright, contemporary New York city skyline, finally coming to rest on an ominous and dark building of old-world style and construction. The ancient looking apartment building, so out of time and place, is called the Bramford, and is every bit as much a character in the story as Rosemary's baby itself. Though working from his own screenplay, Polanski has commented that Rosemary's Baby was "less personal" than other films because it didn't begin as his own project. Yet he managed to integrate his themes of paranoia, alienation, identity confusion, and "otherness" so effectively as to make Rosemary's Baby an important work in his oeuvre. The unexpected success of his film adaptation of Levin's book initiated an entire genre of similarly themed "devil/child" horror films, including The Exorcist and The Omen. Rosemary's Baby started a trend in popular movies which succeeded in tapping into a collective subconscious fear of all things Satanic.
A newly wed, self-described "country girl at heart" from America's heartland is drawn unsuspecting, into a possibly occult web of conspiracies when she and her husband move into the Bramford and become entangled in its dark history. Mia Farrow, as first-time mother, Rosemary Woodhouse, gives the character a remarkable childlike frailty coupled with surprising strength, making it easy for the audience to identify with her predicament. Unlike Levin's book, in which the religiosity is clear-cut, Polanski depicts Rosemary's plight as an ongoing balancing act between fearful fantasy and stark reality. In his autobiography, Roman, Polanski explains:
The (Levin) book was an outstandingly well-constructed thriller, and I admired it as such. Being an agnostic, however, I no more believed in Satan as evil incarnate than I believed in a personal God; the whole idea conflicted with my rational view of the world. For credibility's sake, I decided that there would have to be a loophole: the possibility that Rosemary's supernatural experiences were figments of her imagination. The entire story, as seen through her eyes could have been a chain of only superficially sinister coincidences, a product of her feverish fancies.
Using pregnancy as a device—a hormonal, physical change that alters both the mind and the body—Polanski provokes his audience with situations that question the mind/body dichotomy, the nature of good and evil (God and Devil), the instinct for survival, and the ultimate essence of motherhood. These questions give Polanski's treatment of the material an ambiguous, open-ended and surreal edge which he masterfully exploits. The audience is forced to ask, "How can something ancient and unholy exist in this peppy and bright young couple's world?" Rosemary continuously sinks into a nightmare of shadows, symbols, and whispers that keep her—and the audience—questioning her sanity. Did she dream or hallucinate a demonic rape? Could there really be a coven of witches living in the Bramford?
Rosemary's main motivation from the beginning of the film is the desire to have a child, and this propels her into the diabolical plot that seems to be taking shape around her. She even unwittingly offers that she is of "fertile stock" when describing her family to her nosy, elderly, and suspiciously friendly neighbor, Minnie Castevet. Before long, Minnie and her husband—named Roman—have insinuated themselves into the Woodhouse's lives, and especially Rosemary's pregnancy. As the joy of her pregnancy slowly turns to fear, we begin to understand what an outsider Rosemary has been all along. In a sense, she is a double outsider and this provides Polanski with the essentials for a protagonist with which he can readily identify. Transplanted from Omaha, Nebraska, Rosemary is not nearly as worldly or cosmopolitan as her new husband. Guy, a struggling actor from Baltimore, is completely at home in the big city, while Rosemary merely attempts to adapt. Secondly, Rosemary is an outsider in the mysterious Bramford. She is naive and open, while the Bramford is sly and full of secrets. She is unlike anyone else in the apartment building, whose tenants all seem to be over fifty. The one woman her age, that she meets in the basement laundry, soon winds up a suicide on the sidewalk.
The feelings of aloneness and alienation that Rosemary is experiencing only escalate with her pregnancy. She is an "Alice" gone "Through the Looking Glass" of her own body. As her body grows, so does her paranoia and her separation from the world she once knew. Rosemary works frantically to put the pieces together and solve the mystery that threatens her life and the life inside her. Polanski wants us to feel her victimization at the hands of everyone she trusts. As viewers, men and women alike are unsettled by the dilemma of this soon-to-be mother. Her peril resonates strongly the mother-child bond that lies deep within us all. After giving birth, Rosemary is told that the baby has died, despite the sounds of an infant crying in the distance. By solidly identifying with Rosemary's manipulation, whether real or imagined, the audience expects a resolution. But, in the end, instead of typical Hollywood cathartic vengeance, we are left with more questions. Did Rosemary have a complete mental breakdown, or did the Devil actually take human form and impregnate an unsuspecting, drugged, Manhattan housewife? The final shot in the film is of Rosemary surrounded by the coven as she feels herself drawn to her crying child. Will she follow an impulse to comfort, or kill the infant? By reintroducing the opening lullaby over a close-up of Rosemary's smiling face, Polanski slyly suggests that only motherhood is real, and a more powerful magic than evil. With the lullaby taking over the scene, the close-up dissolves into an exterior shot of the Bramford and we are back, full circle, where we began.
—Ralph Anthony Valdez