Movie: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
“GOD IS DEAD–Satan lives!.”
In this surprise 1968 blockbuster, Rosemary Woodhouse, an ordinary housewife, is drawn into a web of devil worship and deception after she and her husband move into a new building and soon find themselves expecting their first child.
All of the new neighbors seem a little TOO interested in Rosemary and her baby–and she’s convinced that terrible things are going on in that building behind closed doors. Poor Rosemary eventually learns that the real horror is even closer to home than she thought.
It’s probably hard for us today to appreciate how big of a hit Rosemary’s Baby was in its day, and just how much it colored the American public’s imagination when it comes to the topics of Satan and Satanism. My mother has stories about sneaking out of the house to attend a midnight screening–her family certainly were not going to allow her to see the devil movie, but neither was she going to let them stop her.
The film reflects a pervasive cultural assumption of the time that mainstream religion was in a tailspin that it would never recover from–that, as the characters declare, “god is dead.” This notion made middle America uncomfortable, even irate, but the commercial success of the film owes in large part to the people’s unwilling fascination with the ramifications of it.
Viewed with a modern eye, it’s alarming how topical Rosemary’s Baby feels today–not for its depictions of witchcraft and devil worship, but for the feminist politics baked into it. At its heart, both the movie and the Ira Levin novel it adapts (the movie is scrupulously faithful to the book) present a story about the power of the social drive to control women’s bodies and the means of reproduction.
The dismissive, patronizing way that the men in Rosemary’s life walk all over her seems uncomfortably familiar, along with her increasingly frayed demeanor as she tries to balance the evidence of her own experience with the nearly overwhelming campaign to squelch her instincts.
Not only is this a movie about a conspiracy of sexual assault and WAY more gaslighting than you probably expect going in, it was also itself made by an acclaimed director who himself is guilty of statutory rape–and who in fact remains a fugitive to this day owing to those charges. So be warned going into it.