The reason why it took me so long to watch Rosemary’s Baby – I will tell you quite honestly – is because I was afraid to. I was afraid I might not be able to take it, that the movie simply would be too scary for me. I never used to be a horror movie fanatic, I should say. I had heard rumours about the movie, rumours that this movie was in fact one of the scariest movies made, up there with The Shining, The Thing, and The Exorcist. I had seen The Shining and rather enjoyed it (I was all the while thinking well this isn’t too scary, what’s the fuzz about?) I liked The Shining, it was scary (scary in a good way), so why I still had doubts about Rosemary’s Baby, I couldn’t say.
As with so many great movies through history, Rosemary’s Baby also started out as a book. It was written by Ira Levin, published in 1967, and this book was recently assigned reading for the course I was taking at university. Suddenly I had no way around it. I was relieved it was the book, though, as reading something scary is not completely the same as seeing something scary. (This statement is obviously open for debate. There’s a sense of having something forced upon you in seeing something scary that is not present in reading, for example.) As I had no idea what was awaiting me in the book, plot wise, the terror/horror ratio, what type of terror/horror it handled etc., I thought that by first reading the book, I would at least have some sort of armoring with me if ever I chose to see the movie. (Besides, it`s always better to have read the book first. Always.)
So I read the book, and I watched the movie. I liked them both. I didn’t get inordinately scared by them, but I did get to the point where I had to put my hands before my eyes in the movie, and I was definitively puzzled by some of the aspects of the novel. Several questions arose in my head, opinions formed, and this here text will try to present one of them to you. (Before you move on, let me just say, be aware there might be spoilers (I really am not good at this stuff), and that having read/seen the novel/movie would be, regardless of level of spoilers in the text, beneficial to you. But as always, I don`t really care. Do as you wish. There, it`s done, now move on on your on responsibility.)
After having read the book, what strikes me the most is the title. To me, the title (Rosemary’s Baby, to be clear) has been around a long time, I’ve known about it, and have had a somewhat idea of what it represents to me before having actually familiarised myself with the novel. But having read it, the title has attained new meaning to me. It is not just “some title” popularised by Polanski’s famous horror movie anymore; it contains significance that is important to the novel. The title mystifies, depersonalises, belittles and makes arbitrary who Rosemary’s baby actually is. We know, after reading the novel, Rosemary’s baby is in fact the antichrist. Then why didn’t Levin simply call his book The Antichrist, or Antichrist, or something to that effect? Because if Levin had done this, the ambiguity (the mystery) as to who the protagonist is, would not exist, as it does now. With naming it Rosemary’s Baby readers are left contemplating who they should emphatise with, who to root for, as it were. The most obvious answer to these question is immediately Rosemary. (No sympathy for the Devil). She is after all in the title itself! But, it should be emphatised that while, yes, Rosemary is the only name in the title, it is not Rosemary that is the main focus in the title; it is in fact her baby. It is not about Rosemary as much as it is about her baby. If Levin would have the reader believe Rosemary to be the main protagonist, would it not have been easier to simply call the book Rosemary?
Now don’t get me wrong, I should point out that I do believe Rosemary to be the protagonist. In fact, there really is no doubt about that, and saying something else would be outright wrong. I will, however, stick to my previous argument and try to better explain it by putting it differently; the pains and the suffering she goes through during her pregnancy should all be attributed to her baby. We must agree on this. Without him, Rosemary would be an ordinary pregnant soon-to-be mommy, which would make it extraordinarily hard for Levin to establish and produce empathy toward her, extensively making the writing of this novel oddly somewhat frivolous. Without Rosemary, the baby would not exist, without the baby, Rosemary`s suffering (and therefore her significance) would not exist. Rosemary is, as it were, stuck between this earthly world and the unknown supernatural world where witches have taken control over her presence in this earthly world. (Having written this, I feel like a true asshole, a giant sexist. It sounds as if I am saying Rosemary is not important had it not been for her suffering, and her ability to carry forth the antichrist. While this is on one hand correct, it is simultaneous incrrect. I hope you are able to see my underlaying point here. The underlaying point is that there would probably not be written a book about “an ordinary pregnant woman”, because she would be, in and of itself, ordinary. A book about “an ordinary pregnant woman” would not be, I hope we can agree on, as exciting to read. Remember, Rosemary is stuck between two worlds. This is an interesting handling of any gendered individual. And, as we shall see, she is treated very badly by the people around her, too.)
So of course, Rosemary is not completely irrelevant. The next point I want to make is slightly more connected with the text. (We`ll see about that.) The title suggests that this is in fact Rosemary’s baby, and only hers; it it not the Castevets, nor Guy’s baby, it is Rosemary’s. This is interesting because if there is a character in the book who is opposed to the baby, it is Rosemary! Well, no, don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t go so far as to say she is opposed to it, that would be wrong. The circumstances in which Rosemary gets pregnant is immensly important in this aspect, and worth a look at. You see, she is the one who keeps trying to talk Guy into getting her pregnant, that this time in their life is the best time etc. But Guy wants to wait. He wants to be a bit more securely positioned in his acting career, something that Rosemary respects to a certain degree. It comes to a point where she is sick of waiting, but she never acts out so much so that she forces Guy to get her pregnant. But Guy suddenly changes his mind, and tells Rosemary that now, now is the perfect time. The planned evening, however, Rosemary becomes ill and doesn’t feel up to much after dinner. (It should be noted that the dessert they eat is something given to them by Minnie Castevet, and arguably (probably) contains some sort of chemicals engineered to make Rosemary pass out. And Guy, of course, knows. Let`s not forget, he is inn on everything the Castevets do.) Guy rapes Rosemary in her drug-induced sleep. Everything goes according to (the Castevets’s) plan. Although Rosemary expresses some doubt and sceptisism towards Guy’s rape, she does not assert any consequences toward him. Nor does it appear that she gets any hunch of what his agenda is. She’s happy that she finally is pregnant. However, when the baby keeps growing inside her, she starts feeling pain. The doctor she goes to says not to worry, the pain will go away shortly. But they don’t. They stay with her for weeks, for months. She is definitely the only one doubting and questioning what is going on with her pregnancy, wanting to get a second opinion on her pains etc. This is what I mean when earlier I said she is opposed to her pregnancy. The doctor she goes to, Dr. Sapirstein (recommended by the Castevets, keep in mind), and her (so-called) friends and family all tell her it will go over, that she has nothing to worry about, when in fact, they are all smiling behind her back, hardly not being able to wait for the it’s birth. It’s all going according to the Castevets’s plan. They have tried before, with Terry, who understood what was going on, and decided that killing herself was a better fate.
But The Castevets wouldn’t let that happen to Rosemary; they kept good care of here. As we know, they were able to talk Guy and also the first doctor, Dr. Hill, to their side. (If they weren’t already on their side, of course. This is a possibility open to argument, but I shall not dwell upon for the moment being.) At the end, when the little child is born and put in a cradle (Rosemary, of course, being under sedating during the whole ordeal), Roman Castevet is even able to talk Rosemary to their side. Well, that’s what it seems like, at least. Let’s stop for a second and examine the ending. To me it seems to be two possible reason why Rosemary decides to go against her primary impulses and, rather than shunning the anti-christ child from her life, decides to taking care of him; 1. the power of love is stronger than evil; Rosemary looks past the fact that her son is the anti-christ and chooses to be a good mother to him, and treat him as she would any other child, or, 2. the power of evil is stronger than love; the Castevets’s power is too immense, and Rosemary has successfully been infused with the same poison of evil that Guy and Dr. Hill have been.
My natural and immediate reaction upon reading the book, is that number one is the correct one. Here follows a selection of quotes from the end of the novel, from which I draw my conclusion. (This is the part where I thought my point would become slightly more text-relevant.) I take them from the edition published by Corsair, with an introdution by Chuck Palahniuk, from 2011 (pictured above?):
“Why don’t you help us out, Rosemary, be a real mother to Adrian …” (Says Roman Castevet, p. 222)
“No, she couldn’t throw him out the window. He was her baby, no matter who the father was. What she had to do was go to someone who would understand. Like a priest. Yes, that was the answer; a priest. It was a problem for the Church to handle. For the Pope and all the cardinals to deal with, not stupid Rosemary Reilly from Omaha. Killing was wrong, no matter what.” (P. 225)
“`Rock Him,´ Roman said to Rosemary, smiling. He moved the bassinet back and forth towards her, holding it by the hood. She stood still and looked at him. `You’re trying to – get me to be his mother,´ she said. `Aren’t you His mother?´ Roman said.” (P. 226)
“Roman said. `His name is Adrian Steven.´ Rosemary said, `I understand why you’d like to call him that, but I’m sorry; you can’t. His name is Andrew John. He’s my child, not yours, and this is one point that I’m not even going to argue about. …” (P. 228)
The thing to notice in this selection of quotes, is how Rosemary first hesitates, then re-evaluates. First she does not want to be his mother; her impulsive decision is to ignore the child, to not be a part of his life. But after Castevet points out that she is in fact his mother, she seems to re-evaluate.
Also, the fact that she insists upon his name being Andrew John and not Adrian Steven suggests that Rosemary is in possesion of her own sovereignty the whole time and her desicion is not an impuslive one, one that she wants to get over and done with. It is a competent and thought through choice. She chooses herself to act as hs mother.
Maybe this conclusion is derived from me being too naive, idealistic and romantic, but this is my opinion anyway and there really is not alot I can do about that.
I’m glad I did watch the movie after reading the novel. The movie is an important input in the cinematic history in many ways. What I immediately reacted upon was how the movie lies very close to the novel. Polanski doesn’t seem to take very many artistic liberties with it. This is both a good and a not-so-good thing. (An example of a movie where artistic and creative liberties have been taken, would be The Shining. It is very different from the book. But I won’t dwell on them here. We are approaching quite a different subject, one concerning the difference between an adaption and an interpretation of a book, a very interesting subject mind you, but not one fit for this here post.) This here post is hereby finished. Thanks for reading.