Thematically speaking, Rosemary’s Baby is a horrific film, a diabolical exploration of paranoia and alienation, particularly poignant themes at the time of its release, when American women were beginning to break out of their traditional societal roles. With that perspective in mind, however, the movie is also an embarrassment of riches, both artistically and thematically, and and endlessly gripping and entertaining story that has rightfully endured throughout the past 44 years. With the latest Criterion release of the film, a whole new generation of movie lovers and horror buffs can revel in the film’s equally rich history and influence.
The wife of a talented yet struggling stage actor, Rosemary Woodhouse is initially enchanted by the high-rise apartment she and her husband move into at the film’s outset. She furthermore has few objections to their endlessly meddlesome neighbors, the eccentric Castevets. However, after Rosemary becomes pregnant, here idyl life is turned upside-down, and Rosemary is filled with the conviction that something evil is at work in her life. So begins her desperate search for the truth, a truth that may ultimately be too horrific for her to face.
Heading up the film as the titular Rosemary is Mia Farrow, supported on camera and off by two Criterion Collection MVPs: director Roman Polanski, here making his Hollywood debut, and actor/director John Cassavetes as Rosemary’s self-centered husband. Together, these two men provide the movie’s oppressively dread-filled atmosphere, but it is Farrow who makes the whole story truly shine, bringing us into this hostile world where treachery and a fate worse than death lingers around every corner.
The film’s central cast is a tight quartet, including Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as the Castevets, whom are simultaneous sources of broad comedy and deep rooted dread. The movie also does a terrific job of extending its gaze beyond the Woodhouses’ apartment, bringing into focus a myriad of tangential events and relations in Rosemary’s life which may or may not be the results of a dark, ominous presence. This is to say that the movie’s most alluring aspect is its unrivaled handling of anxiety and paranoia (traits Polanski can pull off in cinema like nobody else), with the threat of malevolence never being made explicitly clear until the unforgettable ending.
Personally, I always found the film’s ending to be something of an uncomfortable comedown, especially considering how masterfully tight-lipped the story was all throughout. Not to say that the ending ruins anything; in fact, as the Criterion edition makes abundantly clear, Rosemary’s Baby is a film that need not end at the roll of the credits. The movie’s history and legacy are both every bit as rich as the movie itself, and the special features included here dive into it wholeheartedly. While a commentary track wouldn’t have gone amiss, the new documentary is fittingly comprehensive, and we are furthermore provided with other, less well explored aspects of the film’s history, extending to its stellar musical score and novelistic origins.
One would be hard pressed to consider a more appropriate film for Criterion to release for the Halloween season. Regardless of the date, Rosemary’s Baby is a bona fide cinematic classic that’s completely deserving of such a treatment.
Rosemary’s Baby is unrated, though advised for mature audiences due to intense scenes of horror and sexual content, language, and thematic content. The DVD and Blu-ray are both available in stores and online from Amazon for $25.