One of the saddest aspects of our dying culture is that enjoyment of subtext and symbolism in art are no longer appreciated. Or even recognized for that matter. A film like Rosemary's Baby could never be created today. The talent isn't there. But most frighteningly, the intellect isn't there. Not only from the director himself but the actors involved.
Let's take a look at the picture I've included above. Aside from pretty little Mia Farrow, can you think of any contemporary films where John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon or Sidney Blackmer would be welcome? I certainly can't and I think that is truly depressing.
Rosemary's Baby works as a straight faced horror film. Of that there is no doubt. It even works as a satire of the prime time TV soap operas (Mia Farrow was in the then current TV hit Peyton Place) and the feel good comedies of Doris Day. Ironically (considering Polanski's later crime) the film is ultimately about a woman who is a rape victim.
I can hear the Trench sisters chewing...
In the world of the story, Rosemary is alone (her family is in Omaha) and she only has her husband as next of kin. Right away, it is obvious the partnership between Rosemary and Guy is unequal. She pathetically adores and hero worships him. While Guy just seems to enjoy having Rosemary tag along in his wake as a kind of personal entourage, his literal lady-in-waiting.
Guy is an ambitious actor who just landed a plummy contract for Yamaha commercials. Which is why the Woodhouse family were able to aspire to the high life at a Central Park located apartment building. Even though Guy has achieved financial success in acting, it isn't the kind of success that he wants. He wants to be a rising star, a Broadway Star heading toward Hollywood. Well into the film, it is obvious that his dreams may not happen. He is passed over for a good role in a new play. His anger and frustration are frequently directed at Rosemary. He ignores her, talks to her in a sarcastic tone and acts coldly towards her. Her desire to have a family further incites his resentment.
Perhaps she didn't need five closets!
As the Polanski sets up the coming horror he pointedly showcases the layout and decor of the Woodhouse apartment and the Castevet Apartment. We know that the walls are thin at the back of the Woodhouse apartment because we can hear Roman and Minnie talking to one another. The apartment manager specifically tells the Woodhouse couple that their unit used to be a part of Minnie and Roman's apartment.
Right away Polanski plays fast and loose with the apartment set up. The scale is slightly off and the halls surrounding the apartment are wrong. There are plenty of blueprints online showing off the sought after 7th floor of the Dakota and there are no continuous long halls connecting all of the apartments (as shown in the film). But there are a series of private elevators at each corner of the building leading to the apartment units. The hallways the blueprints do show are inside the apartment units and cannot be accessed by other apartment dwellers. In the real building to get to Minnie and Roman's apartment would require a neighbor to travel to the lobby, walk to the nearest elevator at a specific corner of the building, go back up to the 7th floor into a private hall leading to that unit. Most importantly Polanski does not show the exact route between the two units. What is shown in the film are long, rather institutional looking hallways that don't fit with the lavishness of the building itself and seemingly lead nowhere. This is extremely important information, especially in regard to that back hall closet.
And what about that infamous closet?
It is introduced rather sinisterly because there is a large bureau dresser in front of it. Upon reveal of its contents, it is rather empty except for a few towels and an old vacuum cleaner. Not too much later, Rosemary is shown discovering extra shelves for it. She spends a lot of time in that closet, cleaning it out and repapering the shelves Now during all that time, she never discovered the "secret passage" to Minnie and Roman's unit? Really? The same woman who noticed that the Castevet family art was missing on the walls during her first visit to their home? Not only that she had to have banged on that wall numerous times while adding those extra shelves. She never noticed it was hallow or not as firm as the rest of the walls?
The details of this closet and the distance between the apartments are important because they show how illogical Rosemary becomes towards the end of the film.
What happened to Terry?
Rosemary and we don't know much about Terry. And that was deliberate. What do we find out from Terry? That she was picked up off the streets by the Castevets. They were not abusive towards her. She was in the apartment long enough to know Mrs. Gardenia (the prior owner of the Woodhouse apartment). She was also a former drug addict and criminal. We also see that neck charm for the first time which Terry seems quite fond of.
We discover that the charm smells but Terry does not mention what is inside it. Even though she was quick to inform Rosemary that Gardenia used to grow herbs for Minnie Castevet.
This leads us back to the premise of the film, satanic witchcraft. From the short account we receive from Terry she was in the Castevet apartment for many months, maybe even a year. So she was inside the apartment for a good part of the witchcraft holiday calendar. All during that time, she never noticed naked elderly people running around the apartment during the solstices and equinoxes? The attack on Mrs. Gardenia occurred during the festival of Lammas. But Terry never mentions anything odd about Gardenia's demise. This is a young girl who is ready to gossip with Rosemary and I'm sure she would have mentioned the witchcraft angle. Especially since she pointedly told Rosemary that she first thought that the Castevets wanted her for weird sex.
We know Rosemary eventually thinks Minnie and Roman's witchy ways did Terry in. And we are meant to think the same. However the small part of the film in which we did see Terry has indicators of a woman who is or has been unbalanced. People who are mentally healthy tend not to turn into homeless drug addicts.
Rosemary overhears Minnie screaming about someone not being open minded after the suicide. But the who and about what we don't know. Terry was not mentioned. Did Minnie and Roman try to turn Terry into a fellow witch? Did they try to impregnate her with the Devil's baby? Did Terry fall into the depths of a depression (as Roman indicated to the police that she had manic depressive traits) and jump from the apartment window? The note she left behind was not read aloud by a police officer. And whatever was in the note did not rouse the suspicions of the police.
Polanski wisely left this incident, and many other important scenes, open ended and it is up to the viewer to decide which story thread to follow. Personally I would deduce the simplest, and most logical answer to Terry's story. She was depressed and in a fit of depression committed suicide.
Hutch and the Blind Man
The one character in the film who starts the whole witchcraft, devil worship and cannibalism ball rolling is Rosemary's friend Hutch. It is important to note that all of Hutch's macabre stories are told with a twinkle in the eye and a tongue in cheek tone. Which means he was never serious about the witchcraft gossip at all. And I doubt he knew how much paranoia he was causing Rosemary (a superstitious former catholic). But he did discover a truth which pushes Rosemary and the audience over the edge, Roman Castevet is indeed Steven Marcato. But I would not attach too much emphasis on this fact. It would be perfectly normal to change your name if your parents were infamous for outrageous behavior.
As far as Hutch's mysterious death. When looked at closely, it isn't as portentous as first perceived.
The Glove factor. The film shows that Hutch entered Rosemary's apartment without his Gloves. There was no movement to indicate that he had taken off his gloves before entering Rosemary's home. At the end of his visit he states that he could have lost the gloves earlier in the day. Which was probably the case. There is no indication that Guy took the glove. He was wearing white, form fitting suit. There was no bulge in the pocket of Guy's jacket to indicate a stolen glove. He could have taken it after he hung up his own coat. But he seemed more excited over his box of cigarettes.
As for Hutch's sickness, it could have been a stroke that caused his coma. Strokes are common for men his age.
Not as common but certainly possible is blindness caused by hypertension called Hypertensive Retinopathy. Rosemary becomes convinced that Guy caused harm to his fellow actor, Donald Baumgarten, by cursing him with blindness. This hinges on the fact that Donald also had a clothing item taken from him by Guy. But like Hutch, Donald's affliction can be attributed to common causes that men his age often suffer. If Donald is the same age as Guy (somewhere in his mid 30's to mid-40's), hypertension is certainly a danger. High blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the eye to constrict thereby cutting off the oxygen to the retina. In extreme cases, it causes permanent blindness.
Both Hutch and Donald suffer bad fates but their sicknesses have nothing to do with witchcraft and everything to do with afflictions common to older men. However by the end of the film Rosemary is deep into hysterical psychosis and can no longer think logically about anything or anyone around her.
Here is the kicker to the story, Rosemary may have already been pregnant when she had that disturbing dream. As the pregnancy hormones kick in and ruin Rosemary's mental equilibrium, she (and we) are less certain of reality.
Rosemary stated in a prior scene, to Minnie and Laura Louise, that she has her period. But it is not uncommon for women to bleed a bit when the fertilized egg is implanted into the uterine wall. Quite frequently, many women mistake this spotting for their period.
Which leads us to Minnie's horrible Mousse or Mouse. The chalky taste which everyone makes much of and believes that Minnie, the black witch, spiked with drugs. For those who are hesitant to buy the witch story there are two reasonable explanations for this taste. The first reason; Minnie used cheap chocolate to make it. During the melting process, cheaper chocolate can become grainy or if it is filled with artificial flavor leads to a chalk like taste. So far no drugs involved.
But the bad chocolate was probably not the case because Guy did not think the dessert tasted strange. So still in search of rational explanations, this leads us to the second, big and most likely answer: Rosemary was already pregnant. I've done some searching online at pregnancy advice sites, and experiencing a chalky taste in one's mouth while eating is a common symptom of early pregnancy. All the signs that we are meant to think of as drugs are all common symptoms of pregnancy from the dizziness to the fainting spells. Women who are prone to anemia quite frequently have these symptoms (say hello to Doctor Hill's second blood test request).
All in all everything is pointing to the fact that Rosemary is having a difficult pregnancy and it is affecting her body as well as her mind. But more on the mind part later.
This is where we come to the extreme diverging of interpretations for those who accept witchcraft and those who want rationality.
Rosemary is quite sick from her early pregnancy, this leads to her intense dreams which we are meant to think of as skullduggery. Make no mistake about it, something horrible does happen to Rosemary. So horrible in fact that she spends the rest of the film trying to avoid the memory and pretending it never occurred.
Guy raped Rosemary. Not only did he rape her, he beat her physically. Instead of facing this horrific crime done to her by the one person she loved most in the world, she hallucinated that she was attacked by a demon. It was this attack that starts Rosemary's mental disintegration and plays into the pre and post-partum psychosis that takes hold of her during the rest of the film.
This awful attack is also the genesis of the other disturbing factor of Rosemary's early pregnancy.
Rosemary at first is excited about her pregnancy as she throws herself into preparations, willfully ignoring the fact that her husband loathes her. We and she notice that Guy ignores her and spends most of his time away from the apartment. During Rosemary's distress she experiences abdominal pain through most of her pregnancy.
The film gives one possible explanation for the pain; ectopic pregnancy. There are many other explanations from diverticulitis to kidney stones to the more benign such as the stretching of the uterine wall. Another reason, which supports Guy's beating and rape of Rosemary, is trauma. Blunt or penetrating trauma can cause pain during pregnancy of the type Rosemary experienced. However since Rosemary will not face the fact of her husband's attack, she suffers the pain through out most of the film until finally she heals.
The Doorway Between Worlds
That closet door. That doorway into hell that Rosemary hallucinates about after being knocked unconscious during husband's attack. We NEVER see anyone going into or out of that door. Never. Not once. The two times we go through that door, the film indicates that Rosemary is not right in the mind. Both times the passageway is shown the film goes completely dark, plunging the audience into pitch blackness. Are we going through an actual secret passage? We don't know. It is more likely that we are traveling a secret passage into Rosemary's deepest fears and paranoias.
But lets consider the fact that the doorway is real. That the dresser Mrs. Gardenia put there was to keep out the witches. That Guy, Roman and Minnie carried the drugged Rosemary through that door into their apartment for their satanic ritual. Let us also consider that Guy became quite close to the Castavets because they gave him demonic success and he gave them his wife. So why pray tell, is that closet always kept inaccessible by towel racks and cleaning equipment? Every time Guy visits his surrogate parental figures, he goes down to the lobby walks across the lobby to the nearest of the 4 elevators to the Castevet's apartment, travels all the way back up to the 7th floor and knocks on their front door. Every time? When he could just as easily knock on the secret closet door and just hop right through to their apartment? Does that make any sense? Even at the end, just before the crazy baby shower party, Guy is shown leaving the apartment by the front door rather than jumping through that closet passage. Even if the apartment has long connecting hallways as shown in the beginning of the film, Guy would still have to walk all the way around the perimeter of the building to get to the Castavet apartment. He could save himself a lot of time by using that convenient secret door.
He doesn't use that door because, quite simply, it doesn't exist. We know this because, as I mentioned before, Rosemary spent a lot of time fixing the closet. Polanski pointedly shows that she cleaned out, repainted and reshelved the closet. And not once did she notice that the there was a door. She didn't notice because it wasn't there.
The door only existed in Rosemary's hallucination.
Tanis Root, Devil's Pepper or Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tanis root is an imaginary construct for the film. Tanis Root does not exist in real life. There are many indications that it doesn't exist in the film's world either. We never find out what herb is really in the shakes that Minnie makes for Rosemary. Minnie calls it Tanis Root but that could have been just a nickname. The book Rosemary receives from Hutch, after his demise, never mentions Tanis Root. It describes something called Devil's Pepper. The only connection it seems to have with Tanis Root is that it can be used in charms and they are both smelly.
Unlike Tanis Root, Devil's Pepper does exist in real life. And it certainly can't be used in food since it is a poison. It is also a nickname for chili peppers which, obviously, can be eaten. It is also interesting to note that Chili peppers can smell strange if not properly preserved.
I hardly think that Minnie was feeding a poisonous plant to Rosemary. Especially since Rosemary was drinking it everyday. So was Rosemary wearing and drinking dried chilis? Most likely, although we didn't see chili peppers hanging around Minnie's kitchen. It is rather funny to imagine Minnie and Roman chanting and waving hot peppers around during their "rituals".
The name of Tanis is a bit of a tease. In Greek, it can mean serpent. Which fits in with the satanic story. However there is another meaning for the name. It is a nickname for the Spanish formal name of Estanislao, a variation on the slavic Stanislav. That name means fame and strength. Which ties into the story of Rosemary being at the mercy of a cruel and ambitious husband.
What ever this Tanis root was we never truly know, it is a point that causes flights of fancy in the film's heroine and the film's audience.
Roman and Minnie's Innocence
Roman Castavet is Stephen Marcato. Whether or not he kept up with his father's crazy satanic religion is something we don't know. But Guy points out that anyone would have changed their name if their father was publicly attacked and killed for devil worship.
The worst we can pin on Roman and Minnie is that they are very nosey and overbearing neighbors who just can't leave young newlyweds alone. Minnie herself seems to be into natural health fads such as macrobiotic diets (first popular in the 1960's) hence all the herbs growing in her apartment. The evil of Minnie is more centered in her horrible fashion sense and terrible interior decorating skills.
Why Rosemary becomes fixated on their irreligious ways centers on the way they spoke about the pope during that first visit. Rosemary is a fallen catholic and quite sensitive on the topic of religion. Right away, we can see that she is put off by the Castavets. Her dislike grows when she discovers that Guy likes Roman's stories and also the fact that Roman has contacts in the theater world. Guy becomes more interested in shmoozing up Roman for his contacts than he does in starting a family with the lonely Rosemary.
Adding to this, Rosemary's friend Hutch had already seeded the paranoia by discussing the witchcraft stories associated with their apartment building. Finally, Guy's vicious attack caused Rosemary to find any explanation that did not require her to face the horrific reality of her husband's nature and their disintegrating marriage. The Castavets were a convenient and ever present nuisance on which to pin her fears.
The last we see of the real Castavets are when they get into a cab to begin a world tour. I don't believe we see them again for the rest of the movie. What we do see are horror figures created in Rosemary's psychotic mind. The truth is that Rosemary did lose her baby which only added to the trauma from which she was already suffering. She then crawls back into that "secret closet door" in which her troubled mind explains that her husband did not rape her but gave her to the devil, that her baby is alive and is the antichrist and her neighbors are devil worshippers.
All the paranoia Rosemary experiences is quite common to women suffering from pre and post-partum Depression/Psychosis. Bit most tantalizingly the film hints that perhaps we never saw the true reality of Rosemary at all. In the first dream sequence of the satanic ritual, we see an institutional hallway and a family having a discussion with a doctor figure. Meanwhile two orderlies in white coats tie down Rosemary's legs. Rosemary speaks to a figure that looks like Jacqueline Kennedy or perhaps she is a nurse in this psychiatric hospital we only glimpse. She advises that Rosemary must be restrained due to possible convulsions.
Convulsions that are caused by seizures due to Electroconvulsive Therapy or Shock Therapy.
Labels: commentary, culture, horror, movies