Recently at the Texas Capitol there was an incident among the pro-choice v pro-life protestors in which pro-lifers accused pro-choicers of chanting, “Hail Satan” and thereby revealing their true alliances. The twitters on this were ridiculous. I often question what year the South was time-warp stuck in, the 50s? the 1850s? As a pro-choicer who was there, I witnessed none of this, although I will say the pro-choicers have a much better sense of humor and I can see someone saying this as a joke.
Regardless, I can’t help but find it incredibly poignant and ironic that the pro-lifers, whom I also call forced-birthers, focused on this so literally, as it is a reference to one of the best horror films ever and a film that perfectly exemplifies the need for autonomy, choice and a woman’s needs demanding priority.
If you have never seen this film, then know I will spoil some parts and know that you should see it anyway. It’s masterfully crafted and in my top 5 personal favorites. It is creepy, atmospheric and truly horrifying while incredibly sophisticated.
Rosemary and her husband find a new apartment in New York. He is a struggling actor, though a working one, and while I imagine things were cheaper then, I still get the sense the new place is a reach. So Rosemary comes off as a bit naive, a young wife who is exceedingly proud and supportive of her man and who looks forward to having a family. She also seems isolated. But despite this innocence, she is actually observant and deeply insightful, a fact that gets repeatedly dismissed by those around her. She notices the blank spots on the walls of her new neighbor’s place and wonders what the pictures were. She notices the strange behaviors of those same neighbors and her husband’s changing mood. But time and time again, Rosemary is disregarded as a silly girl making unimportant connections.
One night, the couple decides to have a romantic dinner and work on making a baby. The neighbors provide dessert, which Rosemary observes has a strange under taste. Immediately, Guy gives her that weird reverse guilt spiel that abusers love. Oh you don’t like it, after people bothered to make it for you. Rosemary, like a typical young woman who wants to please, responds with a, well, if it’s gonna be like that, I’ll eat it and I’ll love it, then she eats about half and sneakily tosses the rest like a child. Have you ever been in a situation where your partner mocked your needs, even simple ones? All she does is express an opinion, after all, you are allowed to like or not like things in life. But even her tastes are manipulated. (By the way, if this does happen to you, it’s not a small thing at all, it is a red flag, pack it up and go, fast!)
That is the night that Rosemary is raped. Now, I’m going to assume that Polanski knows a lot about this subject because he depicts it painfully well. But I am not here to address the Polanski conundrum extensively. I do believe a person can be good at their craft w/o necessarily being a good person. I also believe it is not ok for me to judge whether someone is a good person. However, I am no Polanski apologist, I do think he committed a crime which he did not pay adequately for. Yet I also believe that people may receive forgiveness and redemption, and in this case, that is not up to me.
Now back to the film. Rosemary passes out and the rape/satanic ritual begins. Her husband is fully compliant and it becomes clear he has made some deal with these people and he values his career above his wife. He transforms into the demon, her legs are tied down, she is in a drugged stupor and violated and at one point she even cries, “this isn’t a dream, this is real!” yet the violation continues.
The next day when she learns her husband slept with her while she was passed out, she is hurt and upset, asks him why and says, I dreamt I was raped by a monster. Instead of comforting her or apologizing or even expressing an iota of shame, he says, oh wow, thanks a lot, again dismissing her and even acting like her description was rude. Narcissism truly is a monster.
From here it is all twisted fate. Ro is pregnant and happy for it, she has let go the incident but the pregnancy is difficult and strange, very painful at first. The neighbors take an unhealthy interest and override her choice of doctor and care, giving her weird herbs and always casing every decision as what is best for the baby. Everyone knows what is best for the baby but Rosemary. And every time Rosemary gets close to freedom she is foiled and sent back to her husband and surrogate parent/neighbors like she is a foolish child.
Her victimization is not her fault but it preys on her learned passivity, be a good girl, be a good wife, don’t offend. By the time she begins to take action she is too late, her passivity always holds her back.
Rosemary’s baby is the devil, but the real devil is in the details. In the systematic destruction of her will and her freedom and her trust in her own instincts, so that by the end, she embraces this devil as her own. In addition, Polanski dares to challenge the notion that pregnancy and family are an ideal we should all strive for and astutely notes how this ideal is used to control others, especially women.
Polanski perfectly captures the heart of gendered manipulations and how they prey on roles we are designed and raised by, and the importance of trusting your own instinct over anyone else’s. And maybe ahead of his time, he captures the importance of choice and the need for a mother’s will to be respected above others.