Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hail Satan! Rites of Integration and the Dangers of Conformity in "Rosemary’s Baby"


An attractive newlywed couple enters a dusty, cavernous apartment, his baby blue suit and her lily white jumper casting light into the dark space. 

Dressed like two kids playing grownups, their fresh-faced, milk-fed, all-American youth and vitality, optimism and enthusiasm suggest new life, new blood, something that has not dwelled in this space for quite some time. It is such a perfect apartment, never mind that it is most certainly outside their means. What an ideal place to start a family; the ultimate realization of the American Dream. Delicate pink cursive script drifts across the screen as a gentle lullaby caresses familiar depictions of domestic bliss in a consumer culture.

At first glance, this cinematic film has all the makings of the typical Hollywood melodrama; the formulaic genre conventions awaiting the spectator like the dramatic climax before the commercial break on their daytime soaps. With such a standard introduction, one would never guess that the film’s final scene would depict a demonic recreation of the Nativity attended by a coven of grotesque octogenarians fervently praising Satan as a knife-wielding young mother gasps in horror at unseen evil lying in a black manger.

Douglas Sirk this was not. This was something different. This was horrifying.

This was Rosemary’s Baby.

The 1968 release of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby forever changed the landscape of American horror films through its effective domestication of terror. While Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is credited with initiating the era of modern horror at the beginning of the decade, Rosemary’s Baby was unique in its ability to disguise horror as melodrama, giving it the unique ability to bring horror into the ultimate safe haven, the home. Through the modern horror film, we recognize “the monster’s world as our own, and the monster as an inherent part of it” (Wells 48). Such techniques are evident in Rosemary’s Baby: unrecognizable terror lurking in the modern world.

Scholarship on Rosemary’s Baby primarily focuses on feminist, psychoanalytical, and horror genre readings of the film text, as well as explorations into the director’s dark, personal stamp on the film text. In my paper, I will examine an area that has yet to be explored: the film’s appropriation of the rites of integration, a genre convention of melodrama, to tell a modern horror story and warn against the dangers of conformity.

This outcry—albeit a hyperbolic and supernaturally embroidered one—serves as an integral reflection of the cultural and societal changes occurring in Sixties America at the time the film was made. Although made in 1968, the story takes place in the mid-1960s, a time in America before “The Sixties” truly began, an America with one foot in Camelot and the other in The Haight. Such a shift is mirrored in Hollywood genre conventions. 

While Rosemary’s Baby was revolutionary for its time, a key element to its originality and effectiveness lies in its use of genre conventions previously associated with melodrama. The film adopts these conventions as a means of lulling its audience into a false sense of security and effectively setting the stage for a brand of horror that is at once otherworldly and quotidian. Drawing upon the audience’s associations with the genre while appropriating its formal elements, Rosemary’s Baby impregnates the horror genre with a new version of terror made all the more real by its familiar appearance as the heightened emotional narratives of melodrama. 

Eschewing conventions of the typical Hollywood horror film, Rosemary’s Baby appropriates the rites of integration commonly associated with the genre of melodrama. In doing so, it locates the true source of horror as the way in which conformity and the desire to assimilate ultimately lead to the degradation of its protagonists. Thus, the film reads as a warning against the dangers of conformity, precisely at a time in American culture when traditional values were in flux.

The primary structuring device of the narrative of Rosemary’s Baby is the use of the rites of integration. This device is most commonly found in the genres of melodrama, screwball comedy, and the musical and concerns the efforts of outsiders to assimilate into an established order or community. Narratives that employ the rites of integration commonly feature a female protagonist (or a couple), who’s attempt to integrate into an ideologically stable community results in an internalization of the conflict and the ultimate embrace of the dominant community, an event that is seen as positive. Thematic elements include community cooperation, the submersion of personal identity for the sake of integration, and the notion of integration as domestication (Shatz 34-35).

Rosemary’s Baby is further aligned with melodrama, as opposed to screwball comedy or the musical, through the characters and plot of the story itself, which concerns a young married couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, who move into a new “adult” apartment in New York City and their attempts to start a family. These circumstances lead the couple to attempt both integration into the community of the apartment building and what they perceive as the expectations of prosperous, mature adulthood in the mid-1960s America. The presence of a female protagonist and the narrative focus on her desire for domestication and motherhood, bring Rosemary’s Baby squarely into the realm of melodrama. What is significant both for the film and the genre of horror itself, are the ways in which Polanski perverts the usage of the rights of integration not for melodramatic effect, but for the sake of horrifying his audience. Thus, rather than using integration to ultimately restore social order, Rosemary’s Baby employs this device to create a claustrophobic story set in the everyday world, in which integration becomes the protagonist’s downfall, not salvation. In its appropriation of this structuring device, Rosemary’s Baby both presents and contorts the well established signifiers of melodrama to is own horrific ends.

Polanski is credited for taking the film’s narrative in the direction of misleading the audience into false security by presenting familiar and comfortable genre conventions, before subverting them. In fact, it was this element of melodrama that initially interested Polanski in the project and went on to inform his stylistic execution of the narrative. When approached to direct the film, Polanski confessed that the story’s beginning resembled “a kind of ridiculous Doris Day comedy,” or a soap opera (Ciment 31). 
Upholding this tone until the point of visceral horror was crucial to Polanksi’s slow burn technique. 

“The difference is that in Rosemary’s Baby these characters themselves embody the horror of the situation, and it is precisely because of this that we had to disguise them as ordinary characters” (Delahaye 13). The everyday nature of the characters and settings are exactly what makes the horror both readily identifiable and terrifyingly real. “Everything begins on a very ordinary pedestrian day-to-day level. Their strangeness comes through bit by bit” (Ciment 31). The realization of the effectiveness of pedestrian-clad horror led to the strategy of disguising what ultimately becomes a horrific exploration of the dangers of conformity and the subtle yet steady ways in which it can erode identity and agency as a typical melodrama centered around the emotional conflicts involved in a young couple’s desire to officially enter into adulthood and fulfill the perceived social expectations of success and the nuclear family. 

The casting of Mia Farrow as a revisionist’s final girl was a stealth strategy to imprint melodrama conventions onto a horror text, fresh off the popular success of her role in TV’s Peyton Place, “network television’s first serialized prime time drama” and the “60’s version of the melodrama co-opted by commercial television” (Schatz 224). As Rosemary, she serves as a familiar face and a comfortable genre ambassador that lulls the unsuspecting spectator into biting the melodramatic bait at the beginning of the story, thus blurring genre conventions and escorting the audience into the world of horror. As critics of the time described her parallel embodiment of the melodramatic victim and horror heroine, she is “the main asset of the film; she is sympathetically attractive and so innocent and vulnerable one wants to protect her” (Chappetta 37). Thus, the spectator aligns himself with Rosemary, experiencing her emotions and supporting her efforts to conform, rebel, and ultimately reform the ever-changing world around her. 

Central to the rites of integration is the presence of a couple as the protagonists of the narrative. Films employing the rites of integration also typically follow the arrival and integration of the couple to their new community. Rosemary’s Baby not only appropriates the rites of integration by taking a couple as their protagonists but perverts them by showing them as being too young for their desire to integrate and be “adult.” This sets up a fundamental and uneasy disconnect between appearances and actions that will play out through the course of the film. Here, Guy and Rosemary serve as the two protagonists, newlyweds eager to conform not only to their new communal environment (the apartment building) but also to the standards of proper adulthood in society. Like the childish lullaby sung throughout the opening credits, Rosemary and Guy’s eagerness to “grow up” is reminiscent of another popular childhood rhyme: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes (Rosemary) with a baby carriage.”

Though they are a young couple with hardly a stable income between them, Rosemary and Guy take an apartment that is too expensive for them because it projects a certain level of stability and maturity they feel is necessary for them to integrate successfully into the adult world. From the beginning, they look out of place, like two kids playing grown ups, yet nevertheless giddy with all the joy of mid-decade consumerism. Upon moving into the Bramford, they immediately inject the space with a youthful energy. Whereas the previous tenant’s decorating taste favored that of a gothic apothecary, Rosemary and Guy decorate their new home in fresh and sunny shades of yellow and blue, often in gingham and ruffles—as if playing house— all offset by the baptismally repainted white walls. The renovated apartment ultimately resembles a baby’s nursery, or the inside of an egg waiting to be fertilized, an appropriate setting for the incubation of conformity that awaits them on the other side of the shell.

The rites of integration traditionally center on outsiders, who must struggle to fit in, moving into an ideologically stable community. In melodrama, this is most often represented by a small town community that is set in its ways and has a strong sense of communal identity, shared values, and traditions. Rosemary’s new role as homemaker constricts her world to that of the apartment building. Because this is where she spends nearly all of her time, the community of the apartment building quickly replaces the community at large. The Bramford represents an old, well-established community, with firmly entrenched ideology, traditions and social hierarchy. Again, the horror of Rosemary’s Baby lies in the disparity between appearances and reality.

The Bramford is much different than a normal apartment building, which ultimately has its own rules of conduct as laid down by the management. Its residents, management and staff belong to a coven of witches, which functions as a cooperative in which all members contribute to the continuation of the community. Guy and Rosemary, of course, do not know this. In essence, Rosemary’s Baby has replaced the small town community with that of a New York City apartment building, which in and of itself is a residential community, self contained and separate from the “outside world.” What is most notable is the perversion of the notion of “community” from one that upholds and furthers the values of society at large to one that is incredibly subversive to mainstream cultural values.

Another key perversion of the rites of integration comes in the ways in which Guy and Rosemary separately pursue integration into the Bramford and also the idea of successful and mature “adulthood.” Genres that employ the rites of integration typically highlight personality traits or quirks of the protagonists that serve to hinder their quick and easy assimilation to the community at large, and thus provide the dramatic tension necessary for a compelling narrative. While traditional melodramas place emphasis on the male’s desire for the productive (success at work) and the female’s desire for the reproductive (family), these desires become adulterated in Rosemary’s Baby (Hayward 238).

Indeed, this is evident in their differing backgrounds and personalities. Guy hails from Baltimore and aspires to live the sadomasochistic life of a New York thespian, though to his dismay he is better known for his portrayal of “Mr. Yahama” in trite television commercials advertising dirt bikes. Rosemary is “a country girl at heart,” comes from Omaha, and appears to have no deeper interest in life than achieving the elite status of Suzy Homemaker. Both relative newcomers to the city, wide-eyed yet determined to conform, it is clear that Guy is eager to take a bite out of the Big Apple, whereas Rosemary is more interested in baking a pie out of it.

Initially, this aspect of the rites of integration is played out in its conventional form, with Guy focused on his career as a struggling actor and Rosemary fully absorbed in her best impression of the domestic goddess, reveling in her nesting process as she works diligently to convert their apartment into a true “home,” one worthy of an adult life and comparable to the magazine pictures on which it was modeled. Guy’s preoccupation with a successful career means that Rosemary’s time is spent almost entirely alone within their new apartment, homemaking. She does the interior decorating, doing her best to fashion the apartment to be a pleasant space, one modeled after pictures she has seen in magazines (one of their chairs and the set up of their kitchen is taken from a magazine). Rosemary revels in her nesting process: from rearranging furniture to hanging curtains, to revamping the closet that was once blocked off when they moved in. In each of these cases, Rosemary enthusiastically showcases them to Guy when he comes home from work everyday, thus proving her success in supervising home and hearth while Guy ventures into the outside world as the aspiring breadwinner. 

Rosemary is an active participant in the isolated crafting of her domestic goddess persona. Much of her time is spent alone in the apartment, and very rarely does she venture out into the world. While isolation of the female is a conventional theme of the melodrama genre, it is usually presented as a state of being that is thrust upon the female, one that she must accept and find some way to cope with. Rosemary’s isolation, on the other hand, is self-imposed. Unlike the stereotypical incarnation of the melodrama housewife—apron-clad, bobby pinned and brooding— Rosemary romps around the apartment like a little girl “playing house,” her hair in pigtails and her lanky, coltish frame clad in colorful, baby doll jumpers. Rosemary is eager to adopt this role and approaches it with enthusiasm. She chooses to be a wife and homemaker. Pregnancy and family to Rosemary are the trappings of a proper adult life, a complete life like the pictures in popular women’s magazines. In this way, the typical isolation of the female in melodrama has been altered, or updated, as it is now the choice of the female, and not merely a situation she must deal with. Because her domestication comes out of her own agency, Rosemary stands apart from traditional female protagonists of melodramas whose agency is frustrated or suppressed. 

Due to the disparity of their traditional roles, it is Rosemary who makes the initial attempts at integration into the community of the Bramford. Guy initially resists getting involved with the Castavets, the tacky elderly couple who live next door and function as the leaders of the coven and apartment community. He is hesitant to get involved with an elderly couple because he feels they will “never get rid of them.” Rosemary, however, insists that they accept the Castavets’ invitation to dinner. For her, it is the polite and “adult” thing to do. It is only after he is seduced by Roman Castavet's promises of fame and fortune that Guy takes to the idea of joining their coven. Rosemary wishes to integrate because for her, the social grace of being a good neighbor is part of her dream of being a mature wife and mother.

It is here that Rosemary’s Baby takes an important detour from the normal melodramatic narrative. Whereas normally it is the wife who desires the acceptance of the social community, especially when it is she who must interact with them on a daily basis, here it is the husband who pushes for integration. This becomes evident when Guy, immediately upon arriving home from their initial polite dinner, breaks plans with their friends to spend the following evening chatting with Roman Castavet. Rosemary’s initial desire to fit in with their elderly neighbors was motivated more out of social grace than a personal connection. Indeed, she later feels that they are “pushy” and nosey, often insinuating themselves into the lives and situations of others. 

It is Guy’s desire for fame and success that causes him to officially join the community. They offer him a skyrocketing career in exchange for he and Rosemary’s first born child, who is destined to be the only human son of Satan. Again, it is the disparity between appearance and reality that produce the horror that is so effectively realized in Rosemary’s Baby. The horror of Rosemary’s Baby “stems from the invasion and violation, real or imaginary, of private space and the imposition from outside of an alien idea of a character’s identity that, in one way or another, comes to dominate their actions and perceptions” (Le Cain 122). What began as a polite dinner will ultimately lead to the destruction of Rosemary’s domestic dreams.

As the story progresses, the disparity between the desires of Rosemary and Guy widen, providing the bulk of the film’s narrative development. Guy soon becomes increasingly busy with the promised acting work, while Rosemary now pregnant with the Devil’s baby, spends nearly all of her time in the apartment, under the ever-encroaching supervision of the Castavets and the other elderly Bramford coven members. It is important to note here an accompanying trend that parallels the integration of both Guy and Rosemary. The more closely that Guy begins to identify with the community of the coven, the more elderly he begins to appear. Likewise, the increasing discomfort at the level of involvement of the coven members on Rosemary’s life causes her to act out in youthful protest.  One day, after a venture into the outside world, Rosemary returns with her hair chopped into a modern, pixie coiffure.

“It’s Vidal Sassoon,” she gushes, much to Guy’s objection. “It’s very in.”

This aesthetic rebellion allows Rosemary to also assert control over her body’s appearance in the face of a ravaging, satanic pregnancy (orchestrated by the coven unbeknownst to her) while also aligning her with her own generation and culture. Through similar acts, she attempts to alter her incubated torture by ridding herself of negatives and embracing positives from the outside world. She refrains from drinking Minnie’s suspicious prenatal health vitamin smoothies, and pours them down the drain. She trades the foul smelling “good luck” amulet given to her by the coven for Detchema, a popular, powdery, floral perfume associated with the innocence and ladylikeness of the ‘50s and ‘60s. She invites her paternal, educated friend Hutch over for tea, causing a stir among the Bramford dwellers, and actually has the audacity to make a lunch date with him downtown the following day.

In a grander act of rebellion, Rosemary’s begins bringing the outside world inside in greater volume. After spending New Year’s Eve in the cadaverous company of the Castavets and other Bramford residents, she organizes a party to which only their old, (i.e. “younger”) friends are invited. She stipulates that none of their neighbors or elderly friends is welcome. “It’s a very special party,” she adds bitterly. “You have to be under sixty to get in.” The party serves as the first and last time that the spectator gains insight into Rosemary and Guy’s former lives as members of the hip New York arts scene, before their conformity to life in the Bramford. The party scene is heady with psychedelic music, as good friends and colorful well wishers flood the normally vacant space. Rosemary, although weak and frail, at last resembles a member of her generation and age group. No longer disguised as a child bride or little girl playing dress up, her bohemian frock and genuine smile project the image of a healthy young mother, as if she is rejuvenated by contact with the youthful energy of her friends from the outside world. Guy, by contrast, appears out of place. For an aspiring New York actor, he acts stiff and awkward, dressed in a stuffy turtleneck and blazer, nervously eyeing the crowd like a square chaperone.

Rosemary’s rebellion reaches new heights, however, when she turns to her girlfriends for help rather than Guy or the coven. She sees her girlfriends as a kindred support group to whom she can reveal inner pain and sorrow. By its nature, this moment also serves as the most melodramatic scene in the film. When she reveals that the pain has lasted for months, her friends are appalled. Guy attempts to enter the room, but her friend quickly locks him out, claiming this meeting is “for girl’s only.” It is the sole moment in the film where Rosemary receives honest concern and support infused with a modern voice. They discuss health care, abortion rights, and encourage Rosemary to assert herself in her personal well-being. All the while, Guy lingers outside the door. The kitchen serves an ironic location for this rebellion, having traditionally served in melodramas as the chauvinistically-desired location reserved for all women. To Guy and the coven, however, Rosemary behaves like a disgruntled child, one who has turned to her friends for support instead of her paternal figures and the established elders in the community.

As is consistent with the rites of integration, this conflict between the husband and wife’s feelings about the process of integration is driven inward, quite literally in this instance. Soon after becoming pregnant and following a strict regimen of health shakes prescribed by the coven- affiliated Dr. Sapirstein and administered by the coven’s queen, Minnie Castavet, Rosemary begins experiencing a sharp pain in her abdomen. Here the typical excess of feelings exhibited in melodrama due to the internalization of the conflict are literally represented in the excess of horror, the demon seed growing within the body of Rosemary. The typical effect of this internalization of conflict which is singular to the rites of integration here serves its traditional function of pushing the film towards its ultimate resolution, that of acceptance and full integration into the community. In keeping with Rosemary’s Baby’s perversion of these structuring devices, it does not follow a normal or expected path.

After finally bridging the divide between appearances and reality, and armed with the realization that she is being manipulated by the coven for their sadistic ends, Rosemary attempts a complete break with the community. She gathers her things and flees the Bramford, in a last ditch effort to escape the coven’s control and deliver her baby in the safety of the outside world, with a non-coven doctor. It is too late for Rosemary, however. The coven’s control is too powerful for her to overcome. They learn about her attempt to leave the group and forcibly bring her back to the Bramford. Here they assume complete control, drugging her and inducing the delivery of their long awaited Adrian, the human son of the devil. The birth of Adrian completely aligns Guy with the coven and further erodes his allegiance to his wife. He goes so far as to cover up the actions of the coven, telling Rosemary that the baby was lost and that they can always have more in the future.

Rosemary, no longer clouded by her dreams of domestic bliss, the pursuit of which have gone horribly wrong, is now concerned only with finding out the truth and freeing herself from the control of the coven. After hearing a baby crying through her wall shared with the Castavets’ apartment, Rosemary arms herself with a kitchen knife in a final attempt to learn the truth. Since she has already bridged the gap between appearance and reality, a façade that the coven still attempts to uphold, Rosemary is no longer concerned with social graces or the melodramatic navigation of the social hierarchy of the Bramford’s sadistic community. She emerges into the Castavets’ apartment in the midst of the anti-Nativity scene that will bring the film to its climax and complete Rosemary and Guy’s integration and acceptance into the community.

Narratives that utilize the rites of integration are concerned with the disruption and restoration of order. The arrival of the protagonists into the new community is seen as a disruption of the previously established order, and the only way for this to be resolved is the ultimate integration of the couple into the community. This act involves the surrender of the outsider’s own identities and values to that of the group. Although Guy has already experienced this surrender, Rosemary has resisted, and thus the order has yet to be restored. The irony upon which Rosemary’s Baby builds its horror is the fact that here the order that must be restored and maintained is that of a sadistic cult. Unlike Guy, Rosemary’s final integration into the community is realized not through surrender, but through compromise. Upon uncovering the horrific result of coven’s plot, the Antichrist to which she gave birth, Rosemary is left without recourse. Her dreams of becoming an adult and starting her own picture perfect nuclear family have been destroyed.

Nevertheless, the appeal of motherhood and that inherent link between mother and child prove too strong for Rosemary to resist. Roman Castavet proposes the compromise that allows Rosemary to be a mother without having to officially join the coven.

“Be a mother to your baby, Rosemary,” he gently rumbles. “You don’t have to join if you don’t want to. Just be a mother to him.”

Rosemary relents, thus restoring order to the community of the coven. The desire for motherhood that initially drove Rosemary to live in the Bramford has now been realized, though not at all in the way that Rosemary, or the audience, could have ever anticipated.

The terrifying tone of Rosemary’s Baby that is fully realized in this final scene stands as a strong warning against the dangers of conformity. It is precisely in the twisting of the rites of integration that this danger is brought to grotesque life. Rosemary and Guy are forever tainted and destroyed as a result of their involvement with the sadistic community of the Bramford. For Rosemary, her efforts to conform lead to the loss of agency and empowering freedom of thought in the community.

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the film is the fact that this loss of control over her own life comes as complete surprise and not out of her own desires or intentions. Indeed, it is her skepticism that keeps her from becoming a full member of the destructive and spiritually vampiric coven. The instances in which Rosemary is armed with independent or “outside” thought are her greatest moments of agency and control of her own life. In fact, it is only the information about the coven provided to her by her close friend Hutch that allows her to see the reality of her situation and avoid complete submission to the cult. 

The control exercised by the coven is nothing but harmful to Rosemary. This is most clearly evidenced physically by the pain she feels throughout the first half of her pregnancy. The pain is most acute when Rosemary is out of touch with the outside world and confined solely to the apartment building, under the care of the coven. Indeed, one could centralize her pain and oppression within the apartment itself, “...the horror of Rosemary’s apartment is that it denies her problems and forces her to internalize her sense of disturbance. To the last it is a conspicuously bright, clean space, the blandly cheerful vision of a glossy magazine distressingly unmarked by the obscene happenings it is witness to...the constrictive façade of normalcy behind which possibly as great a cataclysm as the end of the world is coming into being...ultimately becomes...a distortion of reality” (Le Cain 122).

The idea of the empowerment of the outside world and information is clearly articulated when Rosemary’s obstetrician (and secret coven member), Dr. Sapirstein, seeks to exert full control over her and her pregnancy. He warns Rosemary not to read books or speak to her friends. The coven can only exert full control over Rosemary when she is kept away from the outside world. This is clearly an appeal on the part of the film for the importance of independent thought and trusting one’s instincts. It is only when Rosemary acts on her instincts, armed with knowledge, that she is free from control.

Likewise, Guy morphs into the personification of what happens when one completely surrenders their agency and identity to group mentality. The most obvious representation of this in the fact that he volunteers his wife to serve as the womb for the Antichrist, justifying this sacrifice with the promise that it’s “only the first one they want.” This is a surrender of identity, as a child carries on their father’s name and, by implication, their identity. The impact of Guy’s integration can be seen in many other aspects of his life. Most important among these is the erosion of his identity, particularly as a member of his youthful generation and social network. Guy’s pact with the coven and his subsequent efforts to fulfill his role within the satanic community completely overtake his life and prior identity before moving into the Bramford. This is clearly evidenced in Guy’s discomfort during the aforementioned party scene. Guy no longer identifies himself with his age group, leading to a comment offered in cocktail gossip imbued with double entendre when asking about Donald Baumgart, the actor that Guy replaced after he went blind in a coven orchestrated effort to further his acting career. The question,

“Hey, whatever happened to the other guy” is easily misread as a more direct question, “Hey, whatever happened to the other Guy?”

Guy’s conformity to the coven also changes the way he acts towards Rosemary as her husband, a social role that shapes his identity. During their first night as tenants in their new and unfurnished apartment, Guy and Rosemary spontaneously make love on the floor. There is a spirit of youthful abandon to their lovemaking that clearly identifies them as carefree kids, yet it is infused with a sad poignancy, as if it is a farewell performance, a last hurrah before they leave the youthful incarnations of themselves behind. Later in the film, on the night of Adrian’s conception, Guy and Rosemary participate in a series of highly orchestrated and clichéd acts of ceremonial romance: cocktails by the fire, the donning of formal attire, and a candlelit dinner set to sultry jazz on the turntable. “Baby Night,” despite its earnest programming, plays out more like a mid-century whisky ad.

There is an inherently depressing quality to the couple’s reliance on cultural clichés and the abandonment of their youthful abandon. For Rosemary, this event is part of her fantasy of how “mature” adults act. For Guy, this is a natural step in his progression into old age, as brought on by his alliance with the geriatric coven. There is a parasitic nature to the dynamic between the young couple and the coven. Indeed, there could be said to exist a “mutual vampirism” between Guy and the other tenants of the Bramford (Orr 5-6). He needs them to further his career, and they need his influence over Rosemary to deliver the mortal incarnation of Satan, thus ensuring the continuity of the community and its beliefs.

The warnings that Rosemary's Baby gives to the viewer came at a particularly appropriate time in America’s history. The film, released in 1968, is conspicuously set in the mid-1960s (the birth, conveniently, takes place in June, 1966 or 6/66). The arrival of the Antichrist occurs during the time period in which the optimism and progressive ideals still lingering from the Kennedy presidency had not yet morphed into social upheaval and civil chaos of “the Sixties.” It was a time period in which the values of the “Establishment” were coming under fire, as is evidenced in the Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, and Anti-War movements, to name a few. Moreover, the warnings against conformity in the film apply equally to both dominant American culture and the subversive elements that operate beneath its surface. 

The coven represents a radical group that works against the cultural norm, a parasite that executes Rosemary and Guy’s degradation. Their initial impulse to attempt assimilation to traditional American culture leads them on a path to misery. What is clearly advocated by the film is the importance of free and independent thought, no matter how strange it may seem. Rosemary is only able to free herself of the coven when she independently comes to the realization of the truth, even though it is deemed “crazy” by normal society. Thus, it is the relinquishing of this freedom of thought, either to a traditional set of values or their antithesis (which, in truth, is just as dogmatic) that proves harmful.

It is in the conclusion of Rosemary’s Baby that one is able to read a hopeful message, one of the conquering of conformity by independent thinking. “Rosemary reclaims and accepts her monstrous child, rather than leaving it to the mercy of Satanists. Knowing her selflessness and gentle nature, one believes that she will be able to overcome her son’s devilish paternity, bringing him up to be a decent man” (Mazierska 122).

Thus, armed with independent thought, Rosemary stands the chance of undoing the harmful conformist dogma of the coven and raising Adrian to be an independent voice, instead of a tool of the community. In its appropriation of the rites of integration central to the genre of melodrama, Rosemary’s Baby presents a horrifying vision of the dangers of conformity and the absence of the independent thinking. It is a horror film begot by melodrama that— despite its sinister and terrifying nature—“has its father’s eyes.”
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                                                                  Works Cited 

Chappetta, Robert. “Rosemary’s Baby.” Film Quarterly, 22.3 (1969) 35-38.

Ciment, Michel, Michel Perez, and Roger Tailleur. ”Interview with Roman Polanski.” 
Positif. (1969). Rpt. in Roman Polanski: Interviews. Ed. Paul Cronin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005. 31-46. 

Delahave, Michel, and Jean Narboni. “Interview with Roman Polanski.” Cahiers du Cinema
(1969). Rpt. in Roman Polanski: Interviews. Ed. Paul Cronin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005. 13-30. 

Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 2006. 
236-248. 

Le Cain, Maximillian. “Into the Mouth of Madness: The Tenant.” The Cinema of Roman 
Polanski: Dark Spaces of the World. Edited by: John Orr and Elzbieta Ostrowska. London: Wallflower Press, 2006. 121-132. 

Mazierska, Ewa. Roman Polanski: The Cinema of a Cultural Traveller. London: I.B. Tauris 
& Co., 2007. 122. 

Orr, John. “Polanski: The Art of Perceiving.” The Cinema of Roman Polanski: Dark Spaces 
of the World. Edited by: John Orr and Elzbieta Ostrowska. London: Wallflower Press, 2006. 4-21. 

Rosemary’s Baby. Dir. Roman Polanski. Perf. Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, 
and Sidney Backmer. Paramount, 1968. 

Schatz, Thomas. Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System
Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1981. 

Wells, Paul. The Horror Genre: From Beezlebub to Blair Witch. London: 
Wallflower, 2000.
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2008

1 comment:

Pandit Bhushan said...


Pandit Bhushan Sharma is qualified tarot card reader and he spends daily many hours within the study of astrology and places efforts thus on decide handiest solutions of all the issues.

Tarot Card Reader