Hmm, it’s Mother’s Day and I haven’t written in awhile. I know! I’ll talk about Rosemary’s Baby!
What have you done to it? What have you done to its eyes?
A dark parallel to the story of the Virgin Birth, what makes this film scary is that it lulls you into a false sense of security. The first two acts or so aren’t very scary so much as weird and off-putting. But as the movie progresses you realize how horrifying and hopeless the situation is and in the end you’re on the verge of tears over the plight of Rosemary.
The movie is several decades old but is hailed as a master of horror. It has very little blood and gore and no jump scares; instead, it gets under your skin by building up the feeling of dread and paranoia with ominous music and shots, culminating in a pretty shocking twist. But because the twist isn’t explicitly shown, it leaves room for some interpretations.
To me, though, what makes it scary even now is that it’s still pretty relevant. It presents the all too real plight of the lack of reproductive rights and justice.
When Rosemary is not pregnant, her husband dotes on her and she is quick to make friends and acquaintances. When she states her desire to become pregnant, though, attitudes towards her start to change. By the time she actually is pregnant, she is not treated the same. She is essentially treated as a brood mare, being withheld important information about her body, being manipulated by her neighbors, and being verbally abused and controlled by her husband. The one person she can trust, her old doctor, doesn’t believe her when she says what’s going on and immediately turns her over to her husband. When the baby is born she isn’t even initially allowed to see him, and does not receive a warm welcome when she comes to the congregation. Almost all the members of the coven disrespect or even outright show contempt for the mother of their savior.
Hmm…does that sound familiar?
What struck me right away is that the only people who are on Rosemary’s side are young women. Literally all the men (with one exception) and the older women see Rosemary as a walking incubator that has to be carefully controlled.
Rosemary herself is a really great character. Initially submissive and docile, her fierce love for her unborn child drives her to take action, seeking a safe place to give birth and get away from the coven. She is one of the few female horror movie protagonists to actually have character development, albeit development that is too late to save her.
The climax is especially horrifying. Imagine the baby you worked so hard to protect turned out to be an unholy demon, the product of a brutal violation. In the end, her motherly instincts kick in, but her smile seems a little halfhearted. Ultimately the viewer will have to decide the fate of her and her child.
This movie has a wide range of interpretations, ranging from calling it feminist to misogynist. I lean more to the feminist interpretation for a few reasons. The first reason is just how frank the movie is when it talks about periods, abortions, and childbirth, all topics that a lot of movies shy away from. Secondly, the whole situation, from the moment of conception to Rosemary’s acceptance of the baby, is seen as genuinely HORRIFYING, not as a cheap shock or drama.
Ultimately, this is a horror movie of something all too familiar and relevant: being a pregnant person having your bodily autonomy, rights, and dignity taken away from you. And that is something that will always scare you on a psychological and personal level.