Friday, August 31, 2007

Rosemary's Baby

Sometimes when the moon is full and I'm in a certain mood, namely a monthly/cyclical mood if you know what I mean (oh, you do, you unloved, fruitless spinsters!) I crave rare steaks, and Rosemary's Baby.

This is one of my all-time favorite horror movies (the other is The Shining) for so many reasons: I love the look of it -- 1960s New York, The Dakota, the decor, the costumes -- I love Mia Farrow (I absolutely adore her hair) I love the subject matter -- a spinster is one step away from a witch, you know, plus I've aspired to be a witch ever since my dad took me to the Salem Witch Museum when I was six -- and I love the fact that I notice something new every time I watch it.

Inevitably, I have to give the film a feminist reading, because, well, it just deals with so much vis-a-vis the archetypes of the female that it's really hard to disentangle it all (and because for me being a female = being a feminist). I mean, besides the unpleasantness of birth, you've got the evil male medical establishment, class issues, religious grappling, male condescension (toward the female capacity for rational thought), "hysteria" and emotionally abusive husbands. So you've got the most stylish witchcraft/urban isolation/theological disillusionment movie in the world, the best haircut ever, and a whole grab-bag of feminist complaints! In other words, the most fun I've had all summer.

But seriously, there are few movies as metaphorically rich and genuinely horrifying as Rosemary's Baby, and I take fresh pleasure with every viewing.

It's also a great adaptation. I read the book when I was ten, but I remember it vividly (since it was riveting and traumatic, leaving me virtually scarred for life). I was far too young to be reading it, but no-one was around to witness me devour the borrowed copy of the red trade paperback with the green-edged pages that Nadia M. had stolen from her mother's basement. I read it in Puerto Vallarta, while my mother was out with a man-friend, and sister was, shall I say discreetly, sick with the shits. It was dark, it was hot, I was alone, I was frightened. It was delicious. I'm surprised no one took it away from me, tender young Catholic that I was, because I must have read it for the better part of a week. That's all I remember about that trip to Mexico, that and bumping my head so hard against the concrete of the pool that I was momentarily blind. The book forever left me with strange ideas, but when I look back I realize how much of it centers on Catholic intermarriages (I think -- remember, the pool). Rosemary had all the weight of guilt and iconography upon her, and she had defied her family by marrying a Protestant man, which is why none of her three sisters, two brothers, or sixteen nieces and nephews help her out at all -- this is more clear in the book than in the film. Anyway, it's wonderfully adapted for the screen, including Rosemary's dreams/nightmares/fantasies/visions.

One reviewer notes that Polanski keeps the film ambiguous enough to make the viewer wonder whether these things are actually happening or if they're in Rosemary's mind.
I thought it was pretty clear what was in her mind and what wasn't. (Guy shows that he hears the chanting, too, at first.) Part of the rage that I feel when I watch it comes from the way Guy tries to gaslight her, which makes it a much better, far creepier tale than if she really *were* hallucinating some or all of it.

Rosemary's whole thing is being talked down to and underestimated by everyone. She's deliberately kept in ignorance and fear, compounding her childlike dependence, and Guy constantly tells her what she does and does not think. When her friends give her some womanly advice, he calls them a bunch of not-very-bright bitches.

Here's a classic mental manipulation scene:

R: "I don't like it, it has an undertaste."
G; "There is no undertaste, you're crazy."
R; "I don't like it and I'm not going to eat it."
G: "Fine, don't eat it. There's always something wrong, isn't there."
Sigh. Rosemary eats it.

Oooohhhh!!!! If that kind of talk doesn't burn me up, nothing does!

So, for me, one of the pleasures of the film is watching Rosemary learn to think for and stand up for herself. I love how observant she is, and I love her smart and pert retorts when she finally does fight back. (My favorite: "Shut up! I don't hear you, you're in Dubrovnik.") The film ends on an ambiguous note, but I like to think she fixes their wagon good. I hope she runs away from all of them, and I hope she drops the baby on its head.

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