Lisa Rosman Looks Back at “Rosemary’s Baby”
Posted on June 16, 2015 at 3:48 pm
I am a big fan of critic Lisa Rosman, and her appreciation of “Rosemary’s Baby” for Word & Film is one of her best.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PewtQsgN5uo
On the surface, an Australian import about a mother and child haunted by a children’s book character has little to do with Roman Polanski’s 1968 opus about a Vidal Sassoon pixie cut, a dream New York City apartment, and a woman who’s been knocked up by the devil (in that order, yes). But both are those rare films that embrace rather than demonize mommies. From “Psycho” to “Mama,” motherhood – and all associated female biological functions – has always loomed as the ultimate horror in American cinema….Of course, the real demon of “Rosemary’s Baby” is a post-World War II, Freudian-drenched culture invested in robbing mothers of their authority. Given his checkered past, Polanski seems an unlikely feminist but his films have always demonstrated a sympathy for underestimated women. A Polish Holocaust survivor, he may have especially resonated with this story of evil tied up in banal packages. (He also adapted the screenplay from Ira Levin’s eponymous novel.) A poster child of the mid-1960s, Rosemary (and Mia) belongs to that lost female generation caught between 1950s housewives and those 1970s libbers wielding speculum mirrors at macrame parties. (Goddess bless them.) Though we’re told nothing about her educational or work background, Rosemary is clearly bright, with a detective’s eye for details and a penchant for word play (when given an amulet containing the fictional herb tannis root, she murmurs, “Tannis anyone?”). But she speaks in a little-girl singsong, shrinks like the Alice she resembles, and waits on hubby hand and foot, apologizing profusely even when something’s not her fault. (When she won’t wake to make his breakfast, he swats her behind only half-jokingly.)
Rosemary’s female eagerness to please may pave the road to hell, but when she does speak up, she’s gas-lit by men intent on keeping her ignorant. When she asks Dr. Sapirstein if her pelvic pain is caused by an ectopic pregnancy, he thunders, “I thought you weren’t going to read books!” Guy goes so far as to throw away her books himself, and he dismisses her suspicions as if she’s an errant servant whom he only occasionally humors. He acts as if she’s so under his thumb that she wouldn’t protest his deal with the devil even if she discovers it.
Rosemary’s only scene with female friends is the most grounding moment in the film. In the middle of a party, mumu-clad ladies circle her, endorsing rather than denying her growing sense that something’s really wrong. Naturally, Guy explodes, calling them all “not very bright bitches,” and claiming that “your haircut is what’s the big mistake.” (When all else fails, distract a woman by disparaging her appearance.) By the time she accuses him outright of having joined a coven, he and the doctor chalk it up to “hysteria” – an all-too-familiar Sigmund F. term.