This year Rosemary’s Baby turned 45, making it everyone’s favourite 45 year old baby with the possible exception of Professor Brian Cox. Roman Polanski’s 1968 film about Mia Farrow and her increasingly disturbing pregnancy remains as powerful as ever 45 years on. But what birthday presents can you give the child of Satan? A sacrificial teddy bear? A death rattle? A One Direction CD? We’re going to play it safe, and bring 5 reasons why Rosemary’s Baby is still brilliant.
5. Let’s start with the obvious – the atmosphere. This is a film that’s all about what you don’t see, the horror arising from the power of suggestion. Modern genre films take note, the creeping oppression of Rosemary’s Baby is infinitely more terrifying than the loud noises of Insidious. At no point in this movie do the audience really see anything graphically horrific or startling, but they leave feeling like they have – a feeling which stays with them for around nine months. Everything from the mise en scène to the music is beautifully unsettling; apparently Mia Farrow herself is responsible for the haunting vocals on Krzysztof Komeda’s title track. La la la la la…
4. But despite its bleakness, the film retains a sense of humour much healthier than Rosemary herself. This is another problem with contemporary horror movies, which are scared that laughs will diminish what little scariness they have. Rosemary’s Baby completely disproves this idea, with dark comedy running all the way through to the bitter – or chalky – end. That final scene is genuinely funny despite being properly horrific, because yes, it is possible to be both.
3. There are a number of ways to interpret this film politically and one of the most common is to read it as a piece of feminism. With her controversial short haircut (“It’s Vidal Sassoon and it’s very in!”) Rosemary is framed within the second-wave feminist movement, partially birthed by the invention of the Pill. Rosemary has no such control over her own body, which falls into the sinister hands of those around her. Her doctors, neighbours and even her own husband rob her of her reproductive rights, leaving her to battle these omnipresent patriarchal forces alone. One of the most effective aspects of the movie is the way in which she physically deteriorates as the conspiracy around her grows. With abortion laws still decided by old men in old rooms, it’s worth returning to Rosemary’s Baby.
2. That’s a common reading of the film, perhaps less common is the idea that it’s criticising homeopathy. The characters’ weird suspicion of conventional medicine and insistence that Rosemary use home-made herbal remedies have truly demonic consequences. In a country whose secretary of state for health believes in homeopathy and whose royals lobby in favour of such obvious bullshit, we could learn a lot from Rosemary’s Baby. Ok maybe it’s not saying that, but we can still read it in such a way.
1. The point is, Rosemary’s Baby has a lot to say and works as a satire as well as a great horror film. Like Hitchcock before him, Polanski brings a B movie premise to new intellectual heights with masterful skill and superb actors. In one way or another it is astoundingly subversive, critiquing elements of the establishment using the satanic genre. It’s at once about women, homeopathy and Hollywood – the film is clearly an influence on David Lynch, with its sense of dread and anger towards the movie industry. Or maybe it’s just a film about some witches.