Roman Polanski’s 1968 disturbing film, Rosemary’s Baby can technically be counted within the supernatural horror sub-genre. In truth, the horrific nature of this film lays within the details. The deeply disturbing psychological trauma, sexual assault, and domestic imprisonment that our pitiably petite Rosemary endures is what is horrifying. After all, what is psychological horror if not a gut-wrenchingly elongated and personally traumatizing?
We summarized Rosemary’s Baby last January when it was featured on Netflix, but we never explored this psychological horror show. There are many different topics to focus on as they exist within the walls of Rosemary’s bourgeois prison. Women face danger as the direct result of the history of inequities between men and women. Therefore, I decided to analyze the grotesque nature of these inequities as they existed as little as sixty years ago.
As a woman who has experienced domestic violence, I feel uniquely qualified to dissect this movie; one in three women will experience domestic violence at one point or another in their lifetime. The horrors that Rosemary faces in her own domestic prison hit so close to home for women everywhere. My own experience with an abusive husband taught me the code of red flags. When it comes to identifying them as they present themselves, I could spot them at sea with a spyglass. Rosemary has one up on me; I’ve never given birth to the antichrist and I only joke with my daughter that she’s demon spawn.
The Psychological Horror Show and the Slow Burn
From the offset, we see what is effectively being masked as a happy and healthy marriage. The relationship between meek and dreamy Rosemary and her D-List actor husband is pruned for the public. She nearly swoons every time someone asks what he does for a living; recalling every role he’s played as if to impress upon others how successful he is. I recognize this as a coping mechanism they use to convince themselves that, “he’s actually a great guy!” Guy, Rosemary’s husband, is definitely charming when there is company around—abusers usually are. Domestic strain isn’t visible from the outside looking in, instead we see it in the details—after all, that’s where the devil usually lies.
Satanic Cults and the Antichrist
We’ve talked about Satanism and the religions that are associated with the image of Lucifer and Baphomet; we’ve discovered how they aren’t actually evil, or dark as might be suggested by modern media or popular culture. You can find more about them in our article here.
I decided to start the discussion here because it’s arguably the least horrifying thing that Rosemary actually experiences. In fact, this movie is about as supernatural as a park bench; any supernatural elements that are present within the movie are seemingly confined to drug-induced dream states—until the end…
Rosemary: Mother of the Antichrist
Paranoia, Superstition, and the Unlikely truths
Domestic Abuse and Rape Culture Explored
There is the age-old argument that marriage makes any intimacy automatically consensual—this certainly would have been the attitude of the time in which this film was created—or the years directly preceding its creation, since the time it was based in was the mid-1960s, versus the late 1960s. Fortunately for women, this attitude has changed dramatically and consent is what establishes whether or not rape has been committed.
There is an incredibly disturbing moment within the film, however, where anyone who has been taken advantage of sexually might feel their skin crawl. It’s the morning after Guy and Rosemary have a romantic dinner at home, complete with desert courtesy of their neighbor Minnie Castevet. This is not discounting of course the scenes that stretch the span between the desert and the next morning—where Rosemary notices that her chocolate treat “has a chalky undertaste,” and Guy coerces her into eating it by guilting her into believing she’s an awful person if she doesn’t. He leaves the room long enough for Rosemary to dump most of her cup into her cloth napkin, which she later dumps into the trash, and then she pretends she’s eaten the rest by the time he comes back into the room.
Drugging Rosemary for the Purpose of Rape
As Rosemary is getting rid of the evidence in her napkin, she nearly falls over—she’s clearly drugged—and Guy comes to her rescue. What a gentleman. When she finally collapses as he’s helping her down the hall, he scoops her up and hurries to the bedroom with her. What follows is, the half-drugged waking dream sequence where Rosemary has lost all control of the situation—a horror for any woman—and she as well as the audience is unsure of whether or not what she’s seeing is real. It is and it isn’t—at this point we’re not sure, but one thing we are certain of is that her neighbor drugged her desert so that her husband could get her into a vulnerable position.
Why would this be necessary if they were already trying to conceive a child you might ask? Well, as her dream sequence reveals, it’s so that her husband Guy can be assured that his wife won’t wake up as he and the residents of the apartment building perform a satanic ritual in which she becomes pregnant with the antichrist. It makes you wonder, if she had eaten all of the pudding (chocolate mousse) would the following paranoia and suffering have occurred at all?
There are some moments of clarity for Rosemary as it’s all happening where she realizes, even in her drugged state, that what is happening to her is not right and that she has not consented to what is being done to her. When she wakes up the next morning, she assumes that she’s just had a bad dream until she notices the scratches that run down the length of her side—the ones that the Devil gave to her in her waking nightmare. Guy, already aware that they’re there, immediately tells her not to be upset that he scratched her, that it was an accident because he was in too much of a rush to take advantage of her.
Rosemary: What time did I go to sleep?
Guy: You didn’t go to sleep. You passed out. From now on you get cocktails or wine, not cocktails and wine, hm?
Rosemary: The dreams I had.
[Rosemary notices the scratches]
Guy: Don’t yell. I already filed them down. I didn’t want to miss baby night. A couple of nails were ragged.
Rosemary: While I was out?
Guy: It was fun, in a necrophile sort of way.
Rosemary: I dreamed someone was raping me, I think it was someone inhuman.
Guy: Thanks a lot. Whatsa matter?
Guy: I didn’t want to miss the night.
Rosemary: We could have done it this morning or tonight. Last night wasn’t the only split-second.
Guy: I was a little bit loaded myself, you know.
Rosemary is outwardly upset about the fact that he openly admitted to having sex with her while she was passed out, but even more disturbed when Guy jokes that “it was fun, in a necrophile sort of way.” She is obviously bothered by the whole thing but doesn’t press the issue further—evidence of the abusive silence and gas-lighting that must regularly occur in their relationship already.
Paranoia, Superstition and the Unlikely Truths
The tumultuous whirlwind of paranoia, superstition, and wild theories that follows her rape and impregnation by the Devil is more than a little difficult on Rosemary—physically, emotionally, and psychologically it’s almost like she’s carrying the child of Satan. I kid, of course, because obviously she’s carrying the child of Satan. She doesn’t know that though, she chalked the dream up to be nothing more than an alcohol-addled nightmare and upon finding out she was actually pregnant was as happy as she could possibly be. The weeks and months that followed her impregnation were spent being taken under the wing of her controlling and abrasive neighbors Minnie and Roman Castevet. They get her to go to a doctor of their choosing, by saying they’re doing her a favor—he’s the best doctor, after all, plus he’s a life-long friend and won’t charge her as much as he usually does.
More Gas-lighting and the Final Reveal
Her obstetrician, doctor Saperstein dictates that her neighbor Minnie will be providing her all the prenatal vitamins she needs through herbal remedies in drink and cake form—he demands that she doesn’t read any books or talk to any of her friends about her pregnancy because “every pregnancy is different,” at first he seems to be a little domineering, but well-meaning. Eventually it becomes clear to Rosemary that something is wrong, after finally speaking to her friends—they tell her she looks awful and when she indicates she’s been in pain for a length of time, they suggest that she get a second doctor’s opinion. This doesn’t go over well with Guy. Luckily for Guy, the Castevets, and Dr. Saperstein, just as Rosemary is about to get a second opinion the pain suddenly vanishes and the rest of her pregnancy is generally problem free. That is, until she receives a book from her friend Hutch, which explains how they are all witches that have formed a plot to take her baby. Rosemary misunderstands though, they’re witches of course, they definitely want to take her baby, but not to use as a sacrifice—that’s their dark lord and savior growing in her womb.
This is where she once again is gaslit by all of the people in her life—the only people in her life—the ones who control every second of every day and have become a living prison for Rosemary. Rosemary’s paranoia has amped up, at this point, to such a degree that she tries to escape the clutches of those around her—eventually getting to the office of her one-time obstetrician Dr. Hill and explaining how there is a plot against her. Dr. Hill pretends he is on her side, puts her in one of his birthing rooms and has her take a nap. When she awakes, Dr. Saperstein and Guy are there to take her home. We learn through all of Rosemary’s paranoia and investigation that her husband became complicit in this plot as a means to achieve fame and fortune—a price he has to pay now that the role he lost to another man was suddenly given to him after the other man suddenly and mysteriously went blind.
When Rosemary finally has the baby, they continue to sedate her and when she finally starts hiding the pills and is coherent enough to question what happened to her baby, she’s told that her child died shortly after birth. Cool story bro, except why is there suddenly a baby crying in the Castevet’s apartment? Rosemary tells them all that they can miss her with that bullshit when she forces her way into the room with the crying baby and discovers her child as well as “his eyes.”
Rosemary’s baby is the son of Satan and when the film ends, we see her warming up to the idea of actually mothering the antichrist.
Feminism and Women’s Rights in the 1960s
It’s frightening to think that less than sixty years ago, women in the United States still didn’t have the basic freedoms that we take for granted today. Unmarried women couldn’t have credit cards,—what’s more is that 1960s scientists and psychiatrists often believed that a man beating or raping his wife while under the influence could actually be considered a good thing. They considered it, “violent, temporary therapy,” that remedied a man’s insecurities over letting his wife run the house and remedied a woman’s guilt over emasculating her husband. This of course is complete and utter bullshit.
Unfortunately for Rosemary, having grown up in an era of repression, she does what she’s told (for the most part, without question). It’s only when she’s encouraged by her less repressed group of friends that she begins to think for herself. Even after being clued into what is really going on by her girlfriends and her former landlord, Hutch, she still doesn’t leave until the last possible moment. When she does eventually try to escape, it’s not for her own well-being, but for that of her child. Just as we fear, the one person she believes she can trust, her former obstetrician Dr. Hill chalks her fears up to paranoia and hysteria from pre-partum stressors. In the end, he betrays her trust and hands her back to her abusers.
Rosemary’s Baby Explained: Realism and Control
There are more disturbing elements in this movie than could ever possibly be discussed in one article. However, since I’m an overachiever, I dug at all of the issues that I found pertinent to the conversation. If you think I’ve missed something and you’d like to discuss it further, feel free to leave a comment! If you disagree with anything I have said here, I encourage you to share your opinion! I would love to discuss this movie further with fans of the genre.
All of that being said, there are a couple of things that I wanted to address about this particular movie. These things don’t necessarily have to do with the content of the movie itself, but they’re worth mentioning.
There are very few people who are not aware of the criminal background of Polanski, but Rosemary’s Baby was actually filmed before the scandal ever came to the forefront of public knowledge—so viewing this film with the knowledge of Polanski being a predator might not be the best lens through which to focus.
The Backstory—Our Disclaimer
At the time of the film’s release, Polanski had only been married to Sharon Tate for about five months and it’s alleged that Polanski wanted to cast Tate for the part of Rosemary, but Maurice Evans—the man who played Hutch—insisted upon Mia Farrow for the role. A little over a year after the film’s release, in August 1969, Tate and her friends were stabbed to death by the followers of Charles Manson. Tate, at the time, was over eight months pregnant with Polanski’s child.
Less than a decade after all of this, Polanski was charged and convicted of drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl. Polanski fled the country before he was able to be incarcerated. To this day, Polanski is still alive and well, with dual citizenship in France and Poland. Since his conviction and subsequent identification as a pedophile and child rapist, Polanski has continued to be a celebrated name. Disturbingly, he’s been nominated for over fifty awards and won quite a few of them since his conviction. Some of the nominations and awards were received as recently as 2020. Needless to say, this gross corruption of the entertainment industry is far from an isolated event; the last thing Polanski should be remembered for is his creative “genius,” when “child rapist” is a more suitable title.
Fuck Roman Polanski.
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McElhaney, Joe. “Urban Irrational: ROSEMARY’S BABY, POLANSKI, NEW YORK.” City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination, by Murray Pomerance, Rutgers University Press, 2007, pp. 201–213.
McLaughlin, Katie. “5 Things Women Couldn’t Do in the 1960s.” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 Aug. 2014, www.cnn.com/2014/08/07/living/sixties-women-5-things/index.html.
Sharrett, Christopher. “The Horror Film as Social Allegory (And How It Comes Undone).” A Companion to the Horror Film, by Harry M. Benshoff, Wiley Blackwell, 2017.