Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Editor’s Notes: The following review marks the start of Jaime’s bi-weekly Criterion review series where he will explore the depths of the Criterion Collection.
To those who have been reading my journey through the Criterion catalog, I must apologize for the lack of material seen lately. Right now I’m going through a huge chapter in my life; my fiance and I are in the process of moving into a newly-built house, and while we’re excited it’s eaten away at any time we have outside of work. However, I’m not one to give up too easily, especially for my own segment, so while my time and words might be limited, I still want to keep this going. Follow along, if you’d like.
There’s an element to writer/director Roman Polanski’s work that, to me, has always screamed ‘soulful punishment’.
This selection goes into the dark side of the Criterion catalog. Rosemary’s Baby, based on the novel by Ira Levin, tells the story of Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy (filmmaker John Cassavetes) and their journey living in the heart of New York City. Even though Guy is an actor looking for his big break, they still move into a lavish big-city apartment, and Rosemary has aspirations of starting a family. One night she witness the dead body on the sidewalk of a tenant she just met, and at the same time also meets Minnie & Roman Castevets, the girl’s caretakers. She quickly force themselves into Rosemary’s life, and before she knows it, everything changes. Her husband is now successful but brutish, her friends are disappearing, and most of all she’s pregnant, but the care for her baby is anything but normal. She loses control of her life entirely, and must do something to get it back before her baby is born…
There’s an element to writer/director Roman Polanski’s work that, to me, has always screamed ‘soulful punishment’. Obviously not all of his work (or maybe not obviously), but there are Polanski films that put your well being through the ringer with some sort of payoff at the end, or he does it to make without the payoff, and instead it’s replaced by wraparound curtain made out of despair and gloom. Arguably, Rosemary’s Baby might be his most triumphant representation of said curtain.
From the first frame, to the last, this film acts like a proud harbinger of evil, in the most subtle fashion. Polanski’s own screenplay adaptation of Levin’s novel is probably one of my favorite horror scripts because the structure that is put together is one that makes every little possible detail count. Kind of like building a house, which is what I’m actually going through right now, every little thing matters. Of course it could be said with the script process overall, but not every film projects the importance of all those details, and even fewer films make them feel just as important as a supporting character. Rosemary’s Baby is a scary movie told through the lips of an architect.
From the first frame, to the last, this film acts like a proud harbinger of evil, in the most subtle fashion.
With the story in place, and Polanski hell bent on making the details come to life, the rest of the pieces fit all too well. Mia Farrow is a revelation as Rosemary, keeping in tow the desperation of her character without going underplaying any of her horrific circumstances. There’s nothing flashy or overpowering about her performance because through Polanski’s style it didn’t need to be. Same thing with Cassavetes, who delivers a performance that doesn’t belong to any genre, and yet it idles through and through with a brilliantly conveyed level of uncomfortableness (now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve seen his work in front of the camera). The real star of the show is Polanski’s effort, making everything seem so easy it should be criminal.
That’s it for this installment. I appreciate that I can be candid about my journey right now, and I’m hoping that I’ll find more time to be more descriptive while the heart of this move is nearing its head. Thank you kind readers, and until next time, enjoy your own cinematic journey. I’ll keep you in touch with mine.
Rosemary’s Baby is a horror film that is beloved by everyone, and especially admired most by the people who truly see the details. It is a brilliant structure of fear.