Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rosemary's Baby (Polanski. 1968)

"He chose you, honey! From all the women in the world to be the mother of his only living son!"


Few filmmakers are surrounded by more controversy than Roman Polanski. His wife, Sharon Tate, was the victim of the highly publicized Manson Family murders in 1969. If that was not enough, he was also convicted for the statutory rape of a 13 year old girl. After this, Polanski fled the United States in order to avoid prison.

Sadly, this is how the majority of non-film lovers remember Roman Polanski. But we cinophiles choose to remember the Polanski that made several amazing films. The 1077 Films to See Before You Die features a few of his best works - including my personal favorite of his, Rosemary's Baby.

This is a horror film that crosses over into the realm of a psychological thriller. Rosemary's Baby follows the story of a young married couple as they move into a creepy apartment complex. Their elderly neighbors are unusual, but friendly. And after Rosemary becomes pregnant, she eventually becomes dependent on them. By now, most of us know how the story of Rosemary's pregnancy ends. In fact, Polanski chooses to throw the mystery in your face. This is not a film that will shock you with a twisting ending.

In fact, Polanski does not even need the ending to be kept a secret for you to be interested. This is mainly because of Mia Farrow's perfect performance as Rosemary. She is the one who is impregnated by the Devil. She is the human being that has to make sense of what is happening around her. And her performance is so perfectly done that we actually see her as a human being- and not a caricature of the innocent. Our hearts break as we watch her desperation become more and more inescapable.

The breakout performance in Rosemary's Baby is given by acting veteran, Ruth Gordan. She plays Rosemary's nosy next door neighbor, Minnie Castevet, who also has a flair for the occult. The interesting dynamic here is that Farrow was a virtual newbie to the film industry, yet Gordan was able to overshadow any green from her portrayal. Their communication was so natural that you could easily believe the Grandmother-esque dominance that Minnie had over Rosemary. For this, Gordan was awarded an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 1969.

I would be crucified by film snobs if I did not mention the ridiculous performance by snob-favorite, John Cassavetes. Rosemary's Baby helped cement him into the snob-cult vernacular. Though the character of Rosemary's husband is not particularly defined, Cassavetes is always cool.

Anyways, Polanski's screenplay is one of the most original in all of film. Not because of content or dialogue, but because of how he chooses to present the film. He was able to blend elements into Rosemary's Baby that created a very Hitchcock suspense/Carpenter horror feeling of urgency and eeriness. I cannot stress enough that Polanski gives you the ending less than a half an hour into the film. But his original take on supernatural suspense still manages to keep you interested for over two hours. None of today's filmmakers, besides maybe the Coens, have the ability to manipulate an audience this way.

So yeah, Rosemary gives birth to the child of Satan. We all already know the ending. Me telling you to watch this for a shock would be like me telling you to watch Sherlock, Jr. for a laugh. Some have said that Polanski is not a director of interesting stories, but rather interesting ideas. This comes to life in Rosemary's Baby. And though Roman will never be able to return to the United States, his body of work remains a must-see for every generation of film fans.

Rosemary's Baby: A

My Next Film....The Princess Bride (Reiner. 1987)

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