The Greek fabulist Aesop said, “Appearances are often deceiving.” Never has that been more true and more sinister than in Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. His first Hollywood film, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is an extremely faithful adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel of the same name, so faithful in fact, that Levin has said the movie is “the single most faithful adaptation of a novel ever to come out of Hollywood.” It revolves around Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (played by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes), a young couple who move into a new apartment in New York and befriend an older couple named the Castavets (Ruth Gordon and Sydney Blackmer). Suddenly, Rosemary is pregnant and as the Castavets get closer to the couple and Rosemary’s pregnancy becomes more and more unusual, she suspects that her neighbours and husband are part of a cult with sinister plans for her and her baby. What makes ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ so terrifying and stand apart from other horror films is how real it feels. Through subtle hints and ambiguous moments and characters, we get to question appearances which makes the manipulation of Guy and Rosemary feel so realistic and frightening.
Throughout the film, there are many moments that appear quite ambiguous to the viewer and we are not sure how to think until the end of the film, which helps make the film quite terrifying. First, we are not sure if everything is literally happening or in Rosemary’s mind. She obsesses over her suspicions, but we do not know what is and is not real. Even her dream of having sex with Satan is quite ambiguous. Is this paranoia a side effect of her pregnancy or does she every right to be afraid? Another ambiguous appearance is Guy’s sudden wanting to have children. Guy at first has little interest in becoming a father since they can’t afford it, but after meeting the Castavets, he wants to have a child. To Rosemary and the viewer, this appears normal since Guy is getting more work after Donald, his main rival, goes blind suddenly, but this could also have something to do with Roman’s private discussion with Guy. Another ambiguous character is Rosemary’s laundry room friend. The woman from the laundry room, Terry, talks to Rosemary about how the Castavets rescued her “from the gutter” and then immediately afterwards, jumps from the building to her death. We are never told what caused her to commit suicide. Was this something in her mind not being able to recover from her past or were the Castavets a major influence in this case? This also lets us question the Castavets. Are they really as evil as Rosemary thinks? Or are they the sweet couple they appear to be? Speaking of the Castavets, one more ambiguous part of the film is the drink Minnie gives Rosemary daily. Balancing Rosemary’s suspicions and Minnie’s good-intentioned appearance, we are not sure if this is a kind gesture to help Rosemary during her pregnancy or if she is trying to drug her.
Due to falling for these deceiving appearances as the two move into their new apartment, Rosemary and Guy are more easily manipulated by the Castavets. They first go for Guy, easily the most weak of the two. He’s struggling as an actor and desperate to find a job so when Roman and Minnie offer him what he wants, he obviously caves in, possibly thinking for the greater good economically for him and Rosemary. Even though he did do this to have a better career, he still betrayed Rosemary by sacrificing her body for a better well-being. Which brings up the question, is it worth betraying the person you love for a better life? At the end, the answer is no. Rosemary spits in Guy’s face after he explains himself. It is also quite ironic that Rosemary’s body is the one manipulated by the Castavets to give birth to the spawn of Satan. Rosemary is a very quiet, innocent woman with a similar name as the Virgin Mary. It’s actually quite darkly humorous in that respect.
‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is often considered one of the most terrifying horror films ever made and I couldn’t agree more. Not only does the film contain a creepy atmosphere, but it also continues to build and build suspense through very real themes of betrayal and manipulation as well as ambiguous hints questioning and challenging the viewer as the film goes on, not knowing who to trust until the very end. This brilliant trick works wonders and Roman Polanski uses it to his mighty advantage to bring Ira Levin’s disturbing world and characters to life.