Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Movies: Rosemary's Baby

Deliciously disturbing! Believe it or not, I had never seen this movie, so was extremely grateful to Film Forum for including it in the NYC Noir festival, particularly since I missed the Polanskifest at Walter Reade (although I did snag the postcard). I'm generally not a fan of the horror genre, but I think that this movie, thanks to Mia Farrow's wilting neurosis, John Cassavetes' evil Ken doll machismo, and Ruth Gordon's grandma from hell getup, the movie belongs more to the genre of terror, something of which is much more delicious, and in which I very much delight.

Mia Farrow is Rosemary; she is the perky young bride of Cassavetes' Guy, an actor who hasn't been able to land much besides a few television commercials. Like all good young brides, though, Rosemary has the utmost faith in Guy, and she talks him up to their realtor as they look at an apartment in the Dakota (shown in grand disrepair, not unlike the rotting gables of Udolpho). The apartment they see is a cut-up (if you, like me, have worked in New York real estate, you will know that the grand ten and eleven room apartments of yore in all the good buildings (think Park Avenue, etc.) are useless at that size, and have been divided into five and six room apartments for saleability) whose master bedroom shares a thin wall with the neighboring apartment, but it has enough luscious pre-war detail (eleven foot ceilings, wood burning fireplace, original crown moldings and plaster work, etc.) that, despite the dingy decor (the octogenarian tenant died whilst living there), Rosemary falls in love and insists that they take the apartment. Guy, sporting young husband that he is, says okay. They move in, make love on the bare floor over their "picnic" dinner the night before the furniture arrives (breasts!), and, like all good young brides, Rosemary redecorates in white and yellow, from the velvet couch to the new drapes to the contact paper on the closet shelves, all while wearing the cutest babydoll dresses (with no bra!).

Rosemary wants to have a baby, and even though Guy isn't getting any good news about the parts he's auditioning for, he agrees that they should. Unfortunately, after a few cocktails, their romantic dinner is interrupted by the neighbors—again! These neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castevet, are a childless, elderly couple who live in the other half of the split apartment; they are the ones whose voices Rosemary keeps hearing through the bedroom walls. Minnie dresses and makes up like a plastic pink flamingo, only sometimes in teal instead of rose. Rome has traveled the world and is full of interesting stories. Guy thinks Rome is fascinating, and has spent the past few evenings next door, listening to old travel stories. Rosemary thinks Minnie is nosy, tacky, and a terrible cook, and tries, like a good young bride, to walk the thin line between politess and evasion. Luckily, the neighbors aren't here to spoil the romantic evening—only to bring over some extra chocolate mousse for the happy couple to have after dinner. Back at the table, Rosemary doesn't much like it, complaining that it has an odd undertaste. Guy, in perfect three martini ad salesman fashion, denies the presence of any undertaste and insists that Rosemary chow down, which she does, for a bit, until she can't stand it any longer.

But Rosemary literally cannot stand; in the kitchen, trying to clean up, she falters, and would have fallen to the floor if Guy hadn't caught her. He tells her that she had too much to drink (wine and cocktails rather than either/or), and has to carry her to the bedroom. Here, she quickly passes out before they can make their baby. Rosemary quickly begins to have a strange dream in which she is being undressed; she is on a mattress in the water; she is on a boat; she is naked; she is wearing a bikini. There is a black man at the helm (he looks like the elevator operator) and he tells her to go down below into the boat's belly. There, she sees a bed; she lies down; she is suddenly surrounded by elderly naked people, including the Castevets, and Guy is there too. People begin to paint her naked body with red symbols, and then they tie her down. Then a beast with glowing eyes, sharp claws, and brown feather-like scales mounts her; her eyes bulge and she shouts "This isn't a dream this is really happening!"

When Rosemary wakes up safe in her own bed, she notices bloody scratches on her sides and back. Guy apologizes for having his way with her while she slept; having found it arousing in "a sort of necrophiliac kind of way." This isn't the first and certainly won't be the last unsettling thing to come out of his mouth; Rosemary is very offended, but in these pre-woman's lib days, she swallows her discomfort (this isn't the first and certainly won't be the last time).

Time passes. Rosemary finds out that she's pregnant, and is thoroughly excited. Of course, it's a bit unsettling that Guy is so eager to immediately tell the Castevets, but they do so anyway. The elderly couple immediately comes over with a bottle of wine, which they all drink (AFS, anyone?), and they talk Rosemary into dumping her OBGYN for their friend Dr. Sapirstein, the best in the business. The doctor sets up a regimen for Rosemary to drink daily nutritional herbal shakes prepared by none other than Minnie Castevet, and furthermore tells Rosemary to ignore the sharp pains in her womb that last month after month. He also isn't worried that Rosemary is losing weight rather than gaining it, or that she has large dark circles under her eyes and never leaves the house. Her old friend Hutch is concerned, though, and he goes home to do some research on some of the odd things going on between the Castevets and Rosemary's pregnancy, in which they seem to be over-involved.

Late that night, Hutch calls with urgency and asks Rosemary to meet him the next day for lunch; he won't tell her why. She never finds out why, though; Hutch stands her up. . . because he's fallen into a coma, from which he'll die after three months! This isn't the only odd thing that's happened recently; Guy has just gotten a great part in a big play, all because the original lead who was cast in his stead has suddenly become blind. These suspicious activities are all pieced together after Hutch's death, when his friend passes a book called "All Them Witches" to Rosemary at his funeral; the last thing he did before he lost consciousness was make a note to give her that book. With his notes and a bit of anagrammatic sleuthing, Rosemary discovers something horrible: the Castevets are Satanic witches, running an entire coven out of their apartment. Rosemary is certain that they are to blame for the actor's blindness and Hutch's death; worse, she is certain that they have made a bargain with her husband, giving him fame and success in exchange for her baby, which they will use in their Satanic rituals.

The terror begins to accelerate now as Rosemary realizes that she is trapped and must flee for safety, particularly now that Guy has found her book and thrown it away; she confronted him about her suspicions, but he has shrugged them off. She packs her maternity suitcase and tries desperately to contact Dr. Hill, her original OBGYN before Sapirstein took over (after discovering that he, too, is part of the plot); too bad that Dr. Hill, upon hearing her complete story, is certain that she has lost her mind, and, promising to call the hospital so that she can check into the maternity ward early, instead calls Sapirstein and Guy, who come to take her back home, forcibly. She fights, but they give her injections. Back home, she fights more, and they give her more injections, and she goes into labor.

When Rosemary wakes from her sickness, she asks for the baby. Sapirstein and Guy come into the room and tell her the bad news; there were complications, but she will be able to try again. Rosemary becomes hysterical and they drug her again; for days they hold her this way, feeding her pills and pumping her for breast milk. As she regains awareness, however, and hears the sound of a baby crying, Rosemary knows that her baby is still alive. Armed with a kitchen knife, she breaks into the Castevets' apartment, where she finds the entire coven of old folks holding court in the grand living room around a black-shrouded cradle; her baby is inside, crying. She peers into the cradle with horror; she asks what is wrong with the baby's eyes. The Castevets tell her that the baby has his father's eyes, but she replies that they don't look like Guy's eyes at all. And then—terror!—Mr. Castevet tells her that Guy isn't her baby's father; the baby's father is Satan! Terror!

That is basically the end; Rosemary is at first horrified to hear that she was Satan's chosen bride, but her maternal instincts very quickly bring her back cradleside, where she rocks the baby to keep him from crying. She begins to sing the haunting lullaby—the one that graces the opening credits—and the closing credits roll. We are terrified, and delighted, and terrified.

Rosemary's Baby departs from the traditional gothic novel because there is no gallant hero and no happy ending (the difference, of course, between 1768* and 1968), but dear esperanza aside, the terrors are the same: the spunky but virginal young heroine whose physical honor is at stake, the crumbling beauty of the abode which quickly becomes her prison, the evil relatives with a hidden agenda, and the dark threat of the supernatural (this time real rather than solved by science). What keeps this movie relevant is the relationship between Rosemary and Guy; it's easy for an audience to see a horror movie and shrug it off with "I don't believe in ghosts," but it's harder to trust that one's spouse wouldn't sell one out for fame and fortune, or that one's neighbors wouldn't be sick and twisted, or that one's doctor wouldn't believe one's fears. The intense frustration at having nowhere to turn is, literally, terrifying, but since this is only a movie, it is deliciously so.

*Actual publication date of The Mysteries of Udolpho is 1794


courtney said...

After that movie, you suggest I move in with strangers?!?!?! Seriously!

Dahl said...

Well, you're not planning on having a baby, are you?