Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby, 1968;  directed by Roman Polanski; starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer

Rosemary’s Baby is one of the classics.  Nearly every movie fan has heard of it, though these days it’s hard to say how many have seen it.  It is definitely a movie of its time – the late 60s, New York City shortly before it fell into the complete disarray it was in the 1970s and early 1980s.  But it is also a movie of changing times.  It came out in wake of films like Bonnie and Clyde and Blow Up, who’s shocking violence and nudity respectively, helped to break the old Hollywood Censorship Code and usher in the modern rating system (the G, PG, PG-13 and R ratings we know today).  As a result, Rosemary’s Baby was a shocking sensation in it’s day.

The movie follows a young couple, the Woodhouses as they move into a cool, old gothic apartment building, back in a time when people could afford to live in Manhattan and not be even remotely wealthy.  Guy Woodhouse is a struggling actor.  Rosemary Woodhouse is a housewife.  At one point Rosemary gets a hip, short, twiggy-like haircut from Vidal Sassoon.  While this does slightly stretch the limits of believability in terms of what this couple ought to be able to afford, it’s much more believable in 1968 than it is in 2016, when all that couple would be able to afford is a hallway with a closet.  And then only if Rosemary worked and Guy had a day job, but I digress.

Guy struggles to find roles – often taking commercials to pay the bills –  while befriending their elderly neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castevets, who they meet after a tragedy in the new building.   Guy (played by John Cassavetes who, in an interesting twist, was himself an actor and film director who made his own distinct indie cinema and was only acting here to pay the bills) suddenly wins a coveted acting role when the original lead suddenly just goes blind.  He also begins lots and lots more time with the Castevets, who Rosemary begins to find to be a nuisance to her.

When Guy and Rosemary decide to try to conceive a baby, Minnie Castevets brings over a chocolate mousse for Rosemary that, when she later attempts to eat complains it has a chalky undertaste.   Soon she passes out and, after a strange dream in which she is taken by some sort of demon while Guy and neighbors watch, later wakes to find scratches on her naked body.  Guy admits to making his moves on her while she was asleep, which she finds disturbing but is just shrugged off by Guy (hard to imagine how this would play out these days).

The rest of the movie deals with Rosemary’s pregnancy and her suspicions of her neighbors and, soon enough, her own husband.   But it these days it is nearly impossible to talk about this movie without talking about the real life transgressions of Roman Polanksi.  Polanski is famously unable to set foot in the US or many if it’s allies these days, stemming back to a statutory rape charge in the late 70s, when he photographed a 13 year old girl without her parents or anyone else around.  It brings up the confounding notions of how do we treat the art of artists who have committed crimes and/or disturbing transgressions, especially in the wake of Woody Allen and Bill Cosby.

We’re not here to answer this question.  It is interesting to note that, though this does not in any way make what Polanski did ok, Polanski has seen some shit in his day.  He survived the Nazi Concentration camps (though he lost his mother there) and his pregnant wife was murdered by the Manson Family in the late 60s. He’s clearly a complicated and conflicted man, and this is a complicated issue.

Rosemary’s Baby came before most of those issues though, and it was the work of a man who masterfully knows how to create suspense and unease.  Most of the fear and scares of Rosemary’s Baby come from the atmosphere and dread from the atmosphere of the building the Woodhouses moved into.  It may be interesting to note that the actual building they filmed Rosemary’s Baby in was The Dakota.  It was the residence of John Lennon and it was on the Dakota’s steps that he was brutally assassinated by a deranged fan.


Dr. Vorhees