It’s not too often we’re granted a major motion picture with an all star cast that presents audience with such a subversive undertone of family and maternal struggles. It wasn’t up until this year that I learned “Rosemary’s Baby” comes from author Ira Levin who wrote “The Stepford Wives.” The latter work of fiction is a brilliant and horrifying look at the male animal struggling to repress the rising tide of feminism and women’s liberation across Western civilization through very shocking means. As the women of an elite group of men branch out seeking independence and liberation from home life, the men eventually form their plan to replace their women robotic drones that are perfectly content living the life of a subservient being whose goal is to please sexually and domestically.
“Rosemary’s Baby” is almost the exact same theme, except it’s more a play on the rabid fanaticism of one community’s struggles to subdue a house wife and turn her in to the ultimate domestic role model. The satanic cult teeming within this massive and seedy apartment complex don’t so much demand that Rosemary conform to the principles of their satanic rituals, so much as they demand she conform to the standards of motherhood and devote her life to raising a child and nothing more. She must live her life to the promise of her child being raised to play an important and key role in the world. And she ultimately must conform by their standards or die trying to flee from their goals of what could become world domination. She has to submit to being a mother and only a mother, and proves the golden rule of “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Roman Polanski’s masterpiece is a very deliberately paced and ingeniously calculated dramatic thriller that delivers the slow boil, tense story of a young couple that have just moved in to a closed in apartment community in the upper class sector of New York.
Director and writer Roman Polanski is very much about delivering elements of the story in gradual and very subtle increments that lead the audience in to a spiral of madness and insanity that will keep them catching on to the ruse of this apartment dwelling community as Rosemary ultimately unravels what is a shockingly diverse group of individuals with nefarious goals. When we’re introduced to the apartment complex, we get to meet Minnie and Roman Castevet, an elderly couple both of whom seem to mean well but are absolutely intrusive on the young couple. Rosemary’s husband Guy is utterly put out by them and finds no end of frustration by their insistence on entering their apartment and inviting themselves over for drinks and dinner. As the couple settles in to their home and Rosemary establishes herself among the individuals in the apartments, Guy soon reverts in to someone absolutely insistent on allowing the couple in to their lives, and is often very angry when Rosemary is put off by their anxious efforts to help nurture her when she becomes pregnant after a horrifying sexual fever dream renders her incapacitated by fear and paranoia. Polanski directs his environment in a method where the entrance and the exit are always present, but barely ever an option.
The apartment complex takes on an entire life of its own becoming its own character that hides its own pulse and underbelly but is completely free of exposure from the outside world. All the while once Rosemary catches on to her neighbors’ ruse and decides to flee for her life, there’s the sense of claustrophobia as she discovers everything she assumed she knew in her life has been a facade from minute one. John Cassevetes is deliciously slimy as struggling actor Guy who will do whatever it takes to become a famous and esteemed actor, and I do mean anything. The slow rise of the horror elements in what seems like a normal upscale neighborhood is harrowing and Rosemary’s journey from independent single woman to eventual maternal target is one filled with an ingenious transformation, and brilliant acting by Mia Farrow. “Rosemary’s Baby” has yet to be paralleled as a film about the seedy darkness of a world demanding its women to become utilities for strong male counterparts, and it’s still a terrifying thriller that is held up by its incredible ensemble cast, and all too logical premise.
Criterion provides Polanski’s masterpiece with the cinematic treatment it deserves, offering a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and print digitally transferred from the original 35mm negative. Among the special features presented for hardcore fans of the horror classic, there’s “Remembering Rosemary’s Baby,” an hour long brand new documentary discussing the method upon which Polanski orchestrated his work and his experiences collaborating with Mia Farrow. This is a documentary created specifically for the Criterion release and it’s wonderful. There’s “Ira Levin and Leonard Lopate,” a twenty minute radio interview with author Ira Levin who discusses his novel sequel to “Rosemary’s Baby” entitled “Son of Rosemary,” as well as exploring his work in film, television and the theater. Finally, there’s “Komeda, Komeda,” a great ninety minute documentary that delves in to the life and master work of composer Krzysztof Komeda, who created the absolutely haunting score for “Rosemary’s Baby.”
For folks that love what Criterion offers in the way of supplements, there’s the booklet featured with the release, which includes illustrations along with an essay by movie critic Ed Park, and an afterword for a new edition of “Rosemary’s Baby” from author Ira Levin, who discusses the film in detail for readers.
Criterion allows fans a wonderful and invaluable gem for their horror collection, giving Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror classic the rightful treatment it deserves. With a remarkable transfer and restoration, and engrossing special features, “Rosemary’s Baby” is back to wreak havoc on single wives once more and live on in the pantheon of rare flawless horror films forever.