I wrote the following in 2006 as a paper for a for Film Analysis class. The assignment was to analyse any horror film of our choice. This paper contains a lot of SPOILERS.
So, if you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to pass.
Year of release: 1968
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Roman Polanski (based on a novel by Ira Levin)
Running time: 131 minutes
In order to examine whether a movie is scary.We first need to know what influences fear. There are several factors that will influence whether a certain horror film will scare a viewer.
- What are the viewer’s personal and spiritual beliefs? Do they believe in a
supernatural realm and/or god?
- What is the general mental balance or current state of mind of the viewer?
Is the viewer especially paranoid?
- The level of imagination in the viewer. · The age and maturity of the viewer (small children more easily believe in monsters).
The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures. ‘Tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil.”
– William Shakespeare via Lady Macbeth.
- Personal experience and social circumstances (a well sheltered person may
not be exposed to harsh everyday fear and real horror. If you have
encountered a ghost, or if you believe that you have, you will be more likely
to find a ghost story believable and therefor: scary.
Spatial factors: (The environment in which the film is watched.)
- Is the viewer watching it alone or with the comforting presence of friends?
- · Level of concentration of viewer.
- · Is it watched on a small TV or in the theatre on the on a big screen with
surround sound? If the sound is bad it becomes difficult to follow conversations. If it’s a bad video copy, the viewer might not get the full visual and audio effect. For instance a superimposition effect in the movies Phsyco (Alfred Hitchcock) isn’t noticeable on old VHS copies.
How film literate is the viewer? The more scary movies they have seen, and
the more they know about special FX, the harder it usually is to scare them.
A young couple Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Casavettes) move into a notorious New York apartment building. Following the apparent suicide of a young woman who lived on the same floor, they meet and befriend their neighbours, the Castevets, Minnie and Roman. Rosemary and Guy want to start a family and Guy treats Rosemary to a special dinner. Rosemary passes out and Guy puts her to bed. Rosemary has strange nightmares about being raped by an non-human creature. The next day Guy admits to having sex with Rosemary while she was asleep. Rosemary goes to see a doctor who confirms that she is pregnant. When Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon) hears the “good news”, she insists the Rosemary sees Dr. Sapirstein, an obstetrician who is a friend of the Casavets. Rosemary switches doctors to Dr Sapirstein, who gives her strange advice during her pregnancy. Hutch an old friend of the Woodhouses is concerned about Rosemary’s condition and becomes suspicious of Roman. He asks Rosemary to meet him but he never shows up for the meeting. She discovers that he has gone into a coma. She
receives a book from Hutch with the message that her neighbours are witches. Rosemary becomes scared and doesn’t know who to trust. It is now close to her due date. When she becomes suspicious of Dr Sapirstein she goes back to Dr Hill. Suspecting that Rosmary is mentally unstable, Dr Hill calls Dr Sapirstien. Sapirstein and Guy comes to fetch Rosemary and she is taken back to the apartment. The baby is born and she is later told that
the baby died due to complications. In the days that follow she is taken care of by the elder
ladies who live in the Bramwell. She still hears a baby cry. She goes to the closet and discovers a secret entrance leading to the Castevets’ apartment. She goes
inside and finds them all in the middle of some sort of meeting. She sees a black baby crib and discovers that the baby has unnatural eyes. She is told that Satan is the father
of her baby. She is asked to be a mother to her child and she accepts the hopeless situation.
Rosemary’s baby is a well-crafted film with many “plants” and “payoffs”. The film is packed with detail and soaked in irony. The first time I saw this film I found it very
scary. It is a psychological rather than a visual attack. There is no demons or elaborate monsters except for a few flashes in Rosemary’s dream and a flashback. The images
are not excessively gory. There is no one hacking off limbs or poking out eyeballs. There is no throwing up green gunk or spinning heads. The film is done in a
classy way free of horror cheese. The only cheesy thing about this movie is some of the wardrobe and the phony sweetness of the apartment dwellers. I found plenty of irony and intelligent humour in this movie. It is also set in New York, a very subject rich and versatile film location.
CINEMATIC ELEMENTS OF ROSEMARY’S BABY
“Rosemary’s Baby stands alone as being the
first in a genre.”
– Robert Evans (producer)
– The Devil/ Demons. The Devil is a scary theme, especially to Christians. The idea that an innocent baby may actually be the son of the devil is horrific.
– The loss of control is a scary theme. Rosemary has no control over the fate that befalls her. (She is druggedand raped).
– Deception: The Casavets seem to be good people but they are not. Guy is an actor, someone who makes a living by pretending to be something he’s not.
– Selling your soul: Guy sells his wife’s body (her womb) and the life of his future child to the Satanic coven in return for success as an actor.
– Something is wrong but no one believes you. When Rosemary seeks help by going to Dr Hill, a scientist who doesn’t believe in the supernatural, he calls Dr Sapirstein and delivers her right back into the lion’s den.
– Innocence corrupted. Rosemary is an innocent woman who just wants to have a family with her husband. Her environment and her neighbour make her totally
The opening music starts with an eerie piano sound and has a la-la-la similar to a lullaby. Yet the lullaby is unsettling rather than soothing. This music recurs at pivotal moments in the film like for instance when Rosemary is pregnant. A lot of classical music is used to score the film, Beethoven’s Fur Elize especially.
- The fact that they can hear the neighbours though the wall is a bit creepy since this probably means that the neighbours can hear them as well and can listen in on
- The chanting heard from the Casvets apartment adds to Rosemary’s paranoia.
- The horror of what the baby looks like is suggested only by Rosemary’s facial expression and the music underlining the moment.
- A lot of shadows, especially later in the film.
- In some of the early scenes, more high key lighting is used. This is part of the “soap opera feel” of the beginning of the film.
- It is interesting to note the clothing the witches in this movie wear. They are not stereotypically dressed in black-and-only black. They all wear “normal clothes” in
different colours. Minnie wears colourful and garishly bright outfits.
- Rosemary decorates her apartment in white and yellow. White is symbolic of purity, innocence and hope. Yellow is symbolic of life, the sun, energy and warmth. She also
wears a lot of yellow and white, though not all the time.
Rosemary often seems trapped in the frame. In the scene in the lobby of the Bramwell, when she is taken home by Guy and Sapirstein, they are filmed through bars giving a
further feeling of being trapped.
There was use of handheld camera as well as use of a harness (a type of steady cam) at times, which gives the film an ‘unsteady’ feeling.
The editing has a nice flow to it that tells the story well, especially the dream sequences. At times, the jumps in time seem a bit confusing (if it wasn’t for wardrobe
changes) but all-in -all, an organic whole.
“There are no special FX …no crocodiles coming out of walls… It’s all in the way
he shot it, and it works on every level and it scares the hell out of me.”
– Robert Evans
The only special effects seem to be the devil’s make-up, eyes and claws in the dream sequences.
The dialogue contains a lot of irony.
- Terry: “They’re really good people” (No, they’re witches)
- Rosemary: “God bless Doctor Hill”. (No, he doesn’t believe that there is a plot against you and he will sell you out to the people you’re running from.)
- Guy: “You befriend an old couple like that and you’ll never get rid of them.”
Rosemary: ”It will just be this one time.”
(Guy ends up befriending them and joining their coven whilst Rosemary is more suspicious)
- Guy (giving Rosemary drugged chocolate mousse):
“Or as Minnie calls it, chocolate mouse”
(In her dream, Rosemary then says that she had been bitten by a mouse, indicating that her subconscious mind knows that she had been drugged.)
- The Bramwell apartment building (real-life: Dakota Apartments in NYC) has a Gothic look to it, which lends itself very well to a horror movie. It is also rather creepy that the apartments have been split into smaller flats and that your flat used to be a apart of some else’s flat.
- The city (in this case New York) – especially in the way Polanski films it – can be a grim and claustrophobic merciless place.
Recurrences and coincidences: (clues to the audience that something is off):
- The former resident of the Woodhouses’ apartment has died in a mysterious coma. Later Hutch slips into a mysterious coma and dies (although he regains
consciousness just before death- a moment of clarity).
- The previous tenant has strangely put a wardrobe in front of a closet that contains towels and a vacuum cleaner. One wonders why she would cover the closet up
since it appears to contain nothing of value. It also seems unlikely that she would be able to move such a heavy wardrobe, since she was 89 years old. At the end
one discovers that this closet leads to the neighbours apartment.
- Terry wears a charm containing Tannis-Root around her neck. After Terry’s death the charm is given to Rosemary… In Rosemary’s dream (the night of the baby’s conception), she is offered forgiveness by the Pope who holds his hand out for her to kiss her ring. The ring on his finger looks like the charm. After Rosemary
discovers that her neighbours are witches, she throws the charm away on the streets of New York.
- The main character‘s name is Rosemary (a type of plant). The former tenant of their flat was Mrs Gardenia (a type of plant). Mrs Gardenia had an herb garden. Minnie has an herb garden from which she brews Rosemary’s ‘vitamin-drink’. The vitamin drink contains tannis root, the same ingredient in Rosemary’s charm.
Several disturbing thoughts contained in ths movie:
- The fact that we can’t be completely sure whether all these terrible things are really happening or whether Rosemary is just paranoid.
- The thought that you cannot chose who your children are and they can turn out to be “evil”.
- The thought that you cannot trust the people who you love and are supposed to have your best interests at heart.
- The thought that you cannot trust medical professionals, who are supposed to have taken an oath to do no harm.
- The old people in the movie look like typical grandparents. It is scary to think of old people who are usually considered as harmless as sinister, evil and dangerous.
In the beginning of the film the couple, Guy and Rosemary, seems to have an idyllic city life. They seem to be the perfect newlyweds. We soon realise that something sinister is going on.
“Rosemary’s Baby opens like a Dorris Day movie
and that’s the whole point.”
– Richard Sylbert (production designer)
“It felt like soap opera the first few pages… by four o’clock in the morning I was still
reading, with my eyes burning.”
-Roman Polanski (Director and Scriptwriter)
The audience does not actually see what Rosemary’s baby looks like. Our perception of the baby is influenced by Rosemary’s reaction to it and by what the other characters say of it. The director chose to let the audience use their imaginations. This way the image of
the baby is far more horrifying than if the director used an actor or some kind of puppet to show the baby.
“It’s the great horror film without any horror
in it. And there ain’t gonna be no baby
– Richard Sylbert
“I wanted the ending to be ambiguous”
– Roman Polanski.
The same lullaby that played during the opening credits now closes the film. This hints that the current situation will be the norm for the way their life is from now on. It also gives a feeling of having come full circle. The ‘prophecy’ is now complete. Destiny has been fulfilled.
Directorial Style of Roman Polanski:
Polanski has an acting background. His directing is character focussed. He does not plan his shots (storyboard), but instead admits to let the actors rehearse the scene and then trying to follow them with the camera.
- Anton Szandor LaVey (1930 – 1997) was the founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan, and author of The Satanic Bile. He is often known as a “founder of
Satanism.” It is popularly believed that he played the Devil in Rosemary’s Baby. The role was actually played (unaccredited) by Clay Tanner.
- Ira Levin, the author of the novel, was born in 1929, the year of the stock market crash (October 29) and the start of the great depression.
- In the movie world this was also the year of the 1st Academy Awards.
- The film is set in 1965 – 1966.
-According to the film, the Pope visits Yankee stadium (NYC) in 1965.
– 1966 was declared by Anton Levey as year 1 (Anno Santanis). In the film this is the year when Rosemary’s baby is born. In the final scene, Roman Castevet says: “The year is One.”
- The film is set in an apartment building called the Bramwell, a notorious building with strange former residents including witches, cannibals and a Kennedy. The building used for the set of the Bramwell is the infamous Dakota in New York’s Upper West Side, where John Lennon was murdered.
CONTEXT OF THE NOVEL:
The Rosemary’s Baby novel was published in 1967. Also in 1967:
- · The New York Times reports that the US Army is conducting secret germ
- · Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler,” is convicted of numerous crimes
and is sentenced to life in prison
- · 10,000 march against the Vietnam War in San Francisco.
- · Boxer Muhammad Ali refuses military service.
- A race riot in Tampa, Florida
- · The People’s Republic of China tests its first hydrogen bomb.
- · The first colour television broadcasts begin on BBC2 in UK on certain programmes. Full colour service began on BBC2 on December 2.
- Jim Morrison and The Doors defy CBS censors on The Ed Sullivan Show when Morrison sang the word “higher” from their #1 hit Light My Fire, despite being asked not to.
- Thurgood Marshall is sworn in as the first black justice of the U.S.
- Guerrilla leader Che Guevara and his men are captured in Bolivia. The next
day Guevara is executed for attempting to incite a revolution
- Abortion bill passes in British parliament.
- Mayor A.V. Sorensen of Omaha, Nebraska declares the following day to be
Grace Bible Institute Day in the city of Omaha.
- US President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967,
establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
- Carl B. Stokes is elected mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, becoming the first
African American mayor of a major United States city
- Benjamin Spock and Allen Ginsberg arrested for protesting against
- LSD declared a Schedule I drug by the United States government
- The Summer of Love
CONTEXT OF THE FILM:
Then film was released in 1968. Also in 1968:
- · Vietnam War: The First Battle of Saigon begins.
- · President Lyndon B. Johnson narrowly defeats antiwar candidate Eugene
J. McCarthy in the New Hampshire Democratic primary.
- Martin Luther King, Jr assassinated.
- Pres. Johnson Signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
- U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador
Hotel in Los Angeles, California by Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy died from his
injuries the next day.
- Pope Paul VI announces an encyclical entitled “Humanae Vitae”,
condemning birth control. (Maybe if Rosemary could have exercised birth control, she wouldn’t have Satan’s baby).
- Saddam Hussein becomes the Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Council
in Iraq after a coup d’état.
- Vietnam War: South Vietnamese opposition leader Truong Dinh Dzu is sentenced to five years hard labor for advocating the formation of a coalition government as a way to move toward an end to the war.
- NASA launches Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, with astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham. Goals for the mission included the first live television broadcast from orbit and testing the lunar module docking manoeuvre.
- Vietnam War: Citing progress with the Paris peace talks, US President Lyndon B. Johnson.announces to the nation that he has ordered a complete cessation of “all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam” effective November 1.
- U.S. presidential election, 1968: In one of the closest elections in US history, Republican challenger Richard M. Nixon defeats Vice President Hubert Humphrey and American Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace.
- Yale University announced it is going co-educational. (A great change for women… In contrast to Rosemary who is a housewife.)
- US spacecraft Apollo 8 enters orbit around the moon. Astronauts Frank
Borman, Jim Lovell and William A. Anders become the first humans to see
the far side of the moon and planet earth as a whole.
The continuation of the Vietnam War and continued political unrest could only have a negative effect on the American psyche. However, it is also an exciting time because of space exploration. These were clearly volatile political times. It is also the time of the hippie movement (a protest to war). Major changes were happening to the United States. It is very likely that people could become paranoid and believe a story about the devil.
Other films released in 1968:
- The Graduate
- Guess who’s coming for dinner
- Valley of the Dolls
- Bonnie and Clyde
- The Odd couple
- Planet of the Apes
- The Jungle Book
Rosemary’s Baby was a huge success. It was nominated for several awards. Ruth Gordon won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Minnie. Roman
Roman Polanski consequently made several acclaimed films including:
The Tenant (1974), Chinatown (1976) and The Pianist (2002).
As far as horror movies go, I think Rosemary’s Baby works very well. It is technically well executed and has enough layers to be a well-rounded film. Psychologically it works very well and it stays with the viewer for a long time. It’s a disturbing look at potential motherhood fears (eg, things can go physically wrong during pregnancy and the mother might experience postpartum depression, though probably not like Rosemary does) and the fragility of trust.
© lowercase v 2006
– The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, William Shakespeare, Editors: Well 7 Taylor, Oxford University Press, Oxford, © 1988
– Film: Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Director: Roman Polanski.(Paramount DVD ©2001)