Feeling in a bit of a paranoid mood? Then you’ll love what’s on offer for today’s Throwback Thursday segment! And you know what they say about paranoia, right? Well . . . actually, what . . . what do they say? I’m not sure if they say anything about it. Is there an expression that “they” say? Just who are “they,” anyway??! What the hell is going on? That’s a good question. So I’ll just cut right to the chase: gimme my baby back!
Today’s food for thought: Rosemary’s Baby.
Rocking the cradle since: June 12, 1968
My introduction to the filmography of one Roman Polanski has sent shivers down my spine. Fourteen hours later I’ve been able to get rid of them.
Rosemary’s Baby is a trip. Not a vacation; a trip. A veritable hallucinogenic as intoxicatingly cinematic as it is a tutorial on how to create atmospheric suspense and feelings of dread and paranoia by using real-world settings and little else. One of the most prolific filmmakers of all-time — having crafted works in Britain, France, Poland and the United States — Polanski’s psychological horror detailing a young housewife’s concerns about strange circumstances surrounding her pregnancy remains to this day a nightmarish descent into paranoia and paralyzing fear.
Though culture and tradition in the nearly 50 years since its release have certainly changed, the emotional core of the film harps on notes that ring true as ever. In this ridiculously effective thriller, a nightmare for the average pregnant woman is only the beginning. Mia Farrow is Rosemary Woodhouse, wife of struggling actor Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) who is at first reluctant to move into what was once a single-unit apartment now subdivided into thinly-walled quarters within a ramshackle building known as the Bramford. Rosemary so badly wants this apartment in Manhattan that he relents.
The ensuing weeks and months the Woodhouses are ingratiated by their next-door-neighbors, an elderly couple who take a very keen interest in Rosemary’s desire to have a child. Following what can only be described as a harrowing dream sequence you don’t really want to relive, she indeed becomes pregnant. She and Guy are congratulated by Minnie and Roman Castevet (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmur) and promptly given all kinds of advice on how to take care of the pregnancy.
The fascination begins when we see Guy and Rosemary’s reactions to the — er, hospitality start to diverge; while Guy forms a bond with the oddball Roman who has good stories to tell, Rosemary becomes increasingly off-put by the prying eyes of a very creepy Minnie. Clearly I wasn’t around back then, but I can still feel the impact of this supporting performance and would have to agree with the Oscar she received. Gordon is positively chilling and Blackmur supports more than significantly.
I would be lying if I said I was won over by Farrow’s performance, but on a strictly objective level (because that’s what we are all about here at Digital Shortbread. . . . . . ) she is a strong character whose determination and horrific circumstances render her irreplaceable. (To that end, I am looking forward to other performances from her.)
Rosemary’s Baby is ruthlessly tense and masterfully chopped up into segments that fuse together like the night into day. Natural transitions yield great expanses of time and we begin to learn the true scale of Rosemary’s problems. Put into simple terms, this is a poor woman’s descent into hell as her pregnancy consumes her very existence. In 2014 the confronting nature of this particular pregnancy still hits hard, without the film ever digressing into a tug-of-war for or against abortion. There are, however, whispers of those concerns buried deep within this truly haunting tale. The film happens to be capped off by one of the best and most unexpected endings I have ever seen.
For all the above reasons and a few more, I find this to be a true masterpiece of cinema.
Recommendation: Roman Polanski’s psychological thriller is brilliantly directed, beautifully and eerily shot, incredibly scored and tremendously effective as well as engrossing. Clocking in at well over two hours, it’s a substantial horror installment. But the elite-level performances — in particular, Farrow and Gordon — coupled with an alarmingly convincing story make the time fly by. I highly, highly recommend getting your mitts on this one if you have the thing sitting there right in front of you on Netflix like I did. I am so thrilled I checked this out. Also, let me recommend Netflix.
Running Time: 136 mins.
TBTrivia: Mia Farrow was actually eating raw liver in that scene. Mmm, bon appétit!
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