Satanic offerings and secret urban covens aside, the most disturbing thing about Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror classic Rosemary’s Baby is how much bullshit Mia Farrow’s isolated, fragile Rosemary accepts before finally insisting that, despite what the people around her are saying, something’s not right.
The Omaha-born, convent school-educated Rosemary is naive, biddable, and trusting — i.e., the perfect housewife. She’s frequently treated more like a girl than a grown woman, even when she’s on her way to becoming a mother herself. Her story is that of someone who’s been taught to obey and accommodate, and the occult conspiracy in which she becomes ensnared is insidious because it’s not unrelated to the treatment she’s clearly used to getting from the many figures who claim to know better, including her actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes) and intrusive neighbors Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer).
More than 45 years later, Rosemary’s Baby is still a potent fable about someone battling to take back control of her life and her body.
Here’s a look at some of the more disturbing moments from the movie that have nothing to do with the supernatural. WARNING: Nearly half-century-old spoilers ahead!
3. “You’ll get used to the smell before you know it.”
It’s not just that the “good luck” necklace Minnie gives Rosemary reeks of the ominous tannis root. It belonged to Terry (Angela Dorian), the former junkie the Castevets took in, who jumped or was made to jump to her death from their very apartment building (suggesting, in the least, that it’s really not working). But Rosemary is just too polite not to accept the ghoulish bauble, as uncomfortable as it makes her, just as she’s too polite not to let Minnie and fellow neighbor Laura-Louise (Patsy Kelly) nudge their way into her apartment. And when Guy piles on to suggest it’s rude of her not to wear the pendant, since she accepted it, she doesn’t object to his point, though it takes her some time to come around to putting it on.
5. “Come on. The old bat slaved all day. Now eat it.”
Guy’s got his own nefarious reasons to want Rosemary to eat the chocolate mousse Minnie brings over — it’s drugged, and will render her conveniently unconscious for the whole demonic ritual the coven’s got planned for later in the evening. But as terrible as what’s to come is, what’s troubling in a different way is how Guy bullies his wife into finishing the dessert like a recalcitrant kid: First he tells her she’s imagining the chalky aftertaste she picks up on; then insists, again, she’s being rude; then he suggests this is the latest instance in her being difficult (“There’s always something wrong”) until she sends him on an errand and secretly dumps the mousse into her napkin rather than tell him she doesn’t like the dish.
7. “It was fun, in a necrophile sort of way.”
The morning after Rosemary wakes up from being drugged and impregnated by Satan in front of a coven of her chanting neighbors, Guy chides her for drinking too much. Then he excuses the scratch marks on her back by saying he gave them to her while having sex with her unconscious body (“I didn’t want to miss baby night”). Of all of the distressing things about how Rosemary’s relationship with Guy is depicted in the film, that he doesn’t act apologetic about raping his passed-out spouse in the name of trying to conceive and that she doesn’t fight him on that may be the worst. He’s covering up something much more horrible, and this is the lie he thinks he can get away with, even joking about it while he wife groggily gets her bearings.
9. “Please don’t read books… And don’t listen to your friends, either.”
“No two pregnancies are ever alike,” says Dr. Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), the “society” obstetrician recommended by the Castevets. From his perch of medical authority, he convinces Rosemary to disregard all the pain — “It’s like a wire inside me tightening!” — her unnatural pregnancy is about to cause her, and to listen to no one but himself (he’d have a tougher time in the days of WebMD). This includes having Minnie mix up a daily “vitamin drink,” the ingredients of which she describes as “snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” that Rosemary obediently consumes. Later, he paternalistically dismisses Rosemary’s extreme symptoms as “common” and a “natural expansion of the pelvis,” telling her to take some aspirin and stop being so silly as to read books.
11. “It hurts so much. I’m so afraid the baby’s gonna die.”
Rosemary’s first big moment of rebellion comes when she throws a party and invites all the couple’s non-Bramford friends, exposing herself to the outside world and getting confirmation from everyone who’s not a witch that she looks like she’s dying and that being in nonstop agony is not just a standard part of the pregnancy process. The scene in which the women barricade themselves in the kitchen to reassure Rosemary that “pain like that is a warning that something isn’t right” hurts to watch itself because she’s so relieved to be told she’s not being ridiculous, and so terrified at the prospect that something might actually be wrong. Guy, of course, responds by saying her friends are “not very bright bitches who should mind their own business!”
13. “I don’t believe in witchcraft, but there are plenty of crazy people in this city.”
The saddest thing about Dr. Hill’s (Charles Grodin) betrayal is that he’s not part of the supernatural conspiracy. He’s just a doctor doing what he thinks is best, which is summoning his colleague Dr. Sapirstein and Rosemary’s husband to retrieve a panicked pregnant woman. Rosemary’s feverish monologue explaining how “they have a coven and want my baby” sounds legit nuts, but given how frightened she is of both the men, immediately turning around and calling them while she sleeps seems cruel, especially given how much she just wants to go to a hospital. Rosemary comes so close to having her Satan baby in the comforts of Mount Sinai, but in the end, it’s not a coven member who tracks her down and brings her back — it’s the very normal physician she goes to for help, and who decides she’s suffering from hysteria.
15. See how the NBC remake, starring Zoe Saldana, compares when it premieres on Sunday, May 11, at 9 p.m.
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