Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Roman Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby', 1968

Fig.1 Rosemary's Baby Poster.

 Rosemary's Baby, perhaps one of Roman Polanski's best known works, is an attack on not only the viewers mind but what they view as 'heimlich', homely and safe. Tony Magistrale stated that "the darkest evils are always those found in our neighbourhoods, in our children, and in ourselves rather than in some deserted place out among the stars." (Magistrale, 1988:15)  This supports that it is making the 'heimlich', the familiar and safe, into the 'unheimlich', the unhomely and unfamiliar.  These subjects the viewers hold closest to them is also where they feel their most vulnerable because they feel secure there.  To twist this ideology is to create something incredibly unsettling to those watching.  Paul Wells believes that "Polanski wittily demonstrates the deep unreliability of the body and the mind, and their increasing dissociation merely exposes how each has been corrupted, re-determined or rendered inappropriate in the changing social climate." (Wells, 2004:83)  As the audience watches the film they observe as the lead character Rosemary, played by Mia Farrow, becomes pregnant and is gradually controlled by those that live around her.  Her neighbourhood is seeping into her new home and invading every aspect of her privacy and intimacy.  

Fig.2 Rosemary in Red.
This gradual change from her free and jovial self into the controlled and powerless vessel is indicated in various way, one significant technique though is through the use of colour.  When the audience first sees Rosemary, she's wearing floaty youthful dresses in pastel colours, the most prominent being yellow.  Patti Bellantoni described the significance as "Pale yellow is like Rosemary.  It signals open and happy and innocent."(Bellantoni, 2005:65).  This colour is also seen at other points when she's at her happiest within the narrative. One example is in her maternity wear she packs, for when she goes into labour, and another example is the use of the colour in the nursery, everything there is a warm and innocent yellow.  The second use of colour to portray her change, and also act as a danger sign to the audience, is the all red outfit she wears on the night she was hoping to 'make a baby' with Guy, her husband.  Seeing red connotes both danger and passion to the viewers, in this case they assume it should be the latter as she is becoming more sensual due to her want for procreation. Bellantoni interpreted this as, when the audience sees "soft-spoken, innocent Rosemary in that intense red, it's a physical jolt to the system.  It's a seductive colour." (Bellantoni, 2005:67) Despite Rosemary's plan for starting a family with her husband that night the red of the sensuous velvet suit turns into the red of blood as she's stripped and raped by the devil the same night.  She's duped by her husband who has, without her consent, made a deal with their neighbours to provide them with the devil's child in return for a more successful career.

Fig.3 Roman Cassavete in Red.
The audience had been previously introduced to the neighbours within the building, the most significant being the Cassavetes.  Rosemary and Guy are invited to dinner at their apartment and it is here that the audience is first introduced to Roman Cassavete.  Colour is used here again as a danger indicator to the audience, as it isn't until later that we discover his occult heritage. He sits alone, on the opposite side of the room to the others wearing a bright red jumper and Bellatoni describes this shot as "Roman, dramatically lit from above and dressed in a bright blood-red sweater, sits at the far left side of the screen.  It is a composition that is asymmetrical and unsettling." (Bellantoni, 2005:66)  Not only is the blood-red colour of his jumper a warning to the audience but the shot itself, unbalanced and unsettling, it makes the audience wonder why he is sitting alone, away from everyone else.  However, this is all contrasted by the characters' social dialogue as they talk about light subjects and his travel to many places creating a strange juxtaposition for those watching.

Fig. 4 Rosemary the night after being drugged.

Another interesting theme within the film is the rights that women have over their own body.  That same night that she was raped by the devil she woke up with scratches all over her, her husband then told her it was because he had sex with her while she was knocked out.  Not only is this a huge betrayal of trust but it supports that though she's a free individual she has no ownership of her own body. Barry Keith Grant observed that her being "unconscious during intercourse mocks woman's "designated" coital stance: passive and undemanding." (Grant, 1996:420)  She's been asleep after being drugged and wakes up to a husband that seems to have taken no consideration over whether she may have wanted to take part in trying for a baby or not.  This brings up a point that Robert M. Polhemus made; "is the potential life in a woman before she gives birth ultimately her responsibility or does it finally belong to the patriarchal power that has traditionally ruled culture?" (Polhemus, 2005:301)  Despite how free and in control of her own body she may have felt, her husband taking this liberty has indicated that she clearly is still submissive to the patriarchal ideology. The irony is that while she's feeling violated over Guy's betrayal of trust and apparent impatience to have a child, unbeknownst to her, the baby he was trying for isn't even his.  This raises another interesting point, Polhemus went on to say "Rosemary exists to be used by others and has little say over her own body.  She's regarded as a vessel to bear a child. Her essence is her reproductive capacity - her genitalia and womb." (Polhemus, 2005:301)  The cultural context of this is that it wasn't until the late 1960's that women in America began to get rights over their bodies and were freely allowed to use birth control methods, such as the contraceptive pill.  This film is the fear that a lot of women would've had, the fear that no matter what rights they may be granted, they will never be able to escape this patriarchal control that they have been submitted to for so long.

List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Rosemary's Baby Poster. (1968) At: (Accessed on 08.12.10)
Figure 2. Fig.2 Rosemary in Red. (1968) At: (Accessed on 08.12.10)
Figure 3. Roman Cassavete in Red. (1968) At: (Accessed on 08.12.10)
Figure 4. Rosemary the night after being drugged. (1968) At: (Accessed on 08.12.10)


Bellantoni, Patti (2005) If it's purple, someone's gonna die: the power of color in visual storytelling. Oxford: Focal Press

Grant, Barry Keith (1996) The dread of difference: gender and the horror film. Texas: University Texas Press

Magistrale, Tony (1988) Landscape of fear: Stephen King's American Gothic. Wisconsin: Popular Press 

Polhemus, Robert M. (2005) Lot's daughters: sex, redemption, and women's quest for authority. California: Stanford University Press

Wells, Paul (2004) The horror genre: from Beelzebub to Blair Witch. London: Wallflower Press


  1. You've obviously taken a long time and thought hard about this review - and it absolutely shines out. Very satisfying, for not only do you deal with production design, you deal with the film thematically. This is sophisticated stuff, Molly - genuinely satisfying. I encourage you to 'grow on' this burgeoning persona. Yes, a degree can get you ready for a career, but a degree can also get you ready for postgraduate education too.

    "the darkest evils are always those found in our neighbourhoods, in our children, and in ourselves rather than in some deserted place out among the stars." - Great quote - the very essence of Unit 3!

    "Colour is used here again as a danger indicator to the audience" :D

    Grammar spot: "the characters social dialogue" should read "the characters' social dialogue" - i.e. the social dialogue of the characters.

  2. Thank you! I really did spend a long time on this, it's the reason I only have the one up there when I'd normally have two. No worries though, I have all my research for the second :D
    Thanks for the grammar fix, I'll sort that out now!

  3. I know - what a picky bastard! :D

  4. Noooo! It's all good! I wouldn't have spotted it otherwise and if it'd been an essay I would've lost vital points :P