In part one of my Halloween-themed blog posts, I will be discussing one of the enduring pillars of horror – Roman Polanski’s seminal Rosemary’s Baby. Set in the hustle of New York City in the mid-sixties, this exquisitely crafted horror film manages to create the most claustrophobic and isolated atmosphere seen in cinema. Rosemary begins the story surrounded by friends with an adoring, if stressed husband and an apartment ready to move into in the midst of New York City, but nevertheless becomes frail, unwell and paranoid as she progresses further and further into her pregnancy, making the film a perfect metaphor for the anxieties which a pregnant woman might face.
The issues faced by womankind which are explored in this pinnacle of horror are possibly the real ‘monster’ of the film. Rape, pregnancy and the pressure to have a child are all portrayed in the most disturbing way possible; I have been put off having kids for life. However, instead of tackling this topic with the misogynistic eye of the late sixties, Polanski approaches them in a feminist way, pointing the issues out and sympathising with the bewildered Rosemary as she tries to navigate nosy (and satanic) neighbours, a neglectful husband and a plot against her of worldwide proportions on top of a truly hellish pregnancy.
The dream rape sequence in Rosemary’s Baby is the centrepiece of the classic horror film, leaving much to be decided by the audience about what is really happening and what is an elaborate nightmare. It does however, present the rape by Satan as something truly terrifying and incomprehensible, seen as it is from Rosemary’s perspective, who is drugged at the time. What specifically makes me cringe, though, is Guy’s comment afterwards. When trying to pass off what happened as him fooling around with Rosemary after she had passed out, he claims that it was ‘kinda fun, in a necrophile sort of way’. Aside from the fact that he has just offered his wife up to be raped by Satan in exchange for him getting a break in Hollywood, could there be a more obvious disregard for his wife’s consent? I obviously understand that this is the entire point of the film; I just think it’s interesting that the metaphor for a rapist comes in the form of the actual devil…
Even today, women everywhere experience ridiculous pressures to fulfil their biological destinies and produce offspring. Rosemary in this instance is happy and willing to have a baby, yet is still pressured into ‘baby night’ by Guy who, to Rosemary’s knowledge, has sex with her unconscious body after a night of heaving drinking. The reality of this is much worse, of course, but cleverly this film points out the horrors of the real life equivalent as just as harrowing. Guy also monitors Rosemary’s ovulation cycle with stalker-ish precision, something which bothers me more than perhaps it should. I think the issue I have with it is that he is, in the most practical sense, taking ownership of her body and using it to make decisions for her. Although she clearly wants the baby, Guy succeeds in removing her agency over the course of the pregnancy and is perfectly willing to tell her the baby dies after handing it over to the Satanists.
This film, as discussed, is possibly the worst portrayal of a pregnancy in the entire history of the world. Am I ever likely to have a baby after watching this? Nope. But the real horror of the film is not the woes of pregnancy, nor is it the presence of actual Satan. It is much closer to home than that. Guy, Rosemary’s husband, is by far the true evil of this plot, again and again taking ownership of Rosemary’s body and will as he ‘allows’ Satan to rape her and carry his child in return for an acting part. From the very real pressures that womankind faces and the not-as-real threat from the literal antichrist, Guy is the despicable villain who unites the two. His character is possibly my least favourite out of the entirety of fiction. Partially due to the fact that we never see Satan in the film for more than a split second, Guy takes the place as the tangible villain we can actively hate for both tangible and intangible things. But mostly, we hate him for his sly deception; at least Satan was somewhat upfront about his intentions. When Rosemary is confronted by Guy at the film’s conclusion, he tries to persuade her that it would make no difference if she had merely lost the child. She responds by spitting on his face before going to comfort her child, who she is still able to mother since he has nothing to do with Guy. The spit is the payoff we have been waiting for the entire duration of the movie, in which the bad guy finally gets his comeuppance. And the bad guy isn’t Satan.