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Rosemary's Baby

To ask the passer-by of typical street interviews what he thinks of the Devil is to engender a discussion colored either by fear or indifference, but a discussion nonetheless.  What evil means to our world, how it sidles up and whispers explanations for our suffering that imply there is no escape, will never be grasped by those who believe in nothing except carnal survival because evil cannot exist without good.  There is no vacuum in which malevolence could thrive because it will always seek harmony and prosperity to thwart.  As we walk against the sun and soak in the beneficence of its rays it will lurk as our cold and neglected shadow; as we love one another and live in clover it will bide its time and await our disputes; and as we grow wizened and grey it will attempt to demonstrate that aging is the clearest indication that our world is damned.  All these thoughts shuffle across the radars of intelligent and open-minded people, if only because you can rarely understand someone or something without having considered its potential opposite.  A gentle introduction to the wickedness prevalent in this famous film. 

The story is a familiar one, as it has since been flattered by unending imitation.  Rosemary Woodhouse, a beautiful young housewife (Mia Farrow), and her actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes) seek a new home amidst the chic flats of 1960s New York City.  The Woodhouses' urge to move is never fully addressed; nor is, for that matter, how a budding actor of limited ability (snatches of Guy's leaden monologues provide some comical interludes) would be able to afford the palatial spread they ultimately select in the building known as the Bramford.  The conspiratorial airs that waft and swoop around Rosemary's Baby are evident from the opening angles chosen by the director: the strange look of the lift operator, for example, or Guy's insistence on at least a moment of eye contact with each member of the building staff, as if he were inflecting a code.  Our conclusion at this early stage points to a wholly manufactured scenario, although we never receive evidence of when an agreement among parties is struck.  The alternative is the argument put forth by the couple's good friend and current landlord, Hutch (Maurice Evans).  In the last hundred years the Bramford has become more affordable by virtue of having housed a gaggle of hideous tenants, such as a pair of Victorian ladies who happened to have a special fondness for young children, another resident's notorious parties, as well as an abomination whose legal name was Adrian Marcato.  Hutch's tone already betrays Marcato's primacy among these alleged criminals, and prudence forbids me from mentioning anything more.  Suffice it to say that the Woodhouses move in and soon encounter their neighbors, most prominently the rather officious couple of Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer). 

Why anyone would trust the Castevets will depend on how that person feels about eccentric, nosey old people who ingratiate themselves in the guise of self-effacing hospitality.  To her credit, Rosemary immediately sees through this charade; indeed, the film would have been horrifyingly dull had Rosemary been a twit or a bimbo.  As it were, she is consumed in her dreams by reflections of her Catholic upbringing, of the concomitant guilt and emotion  all of which is portrayed at times as the ingenuous beliefs of a child.  Having a family within wedlock is about as sensual as she would ever permit herself to become (the couple's undressing scene in their empty apartment seems like the preparation for some kind of surgical procedure).  But Rosemary is also lonely and underappreciated by Guy, who seems preoccupied by his middling career as a no-name actor in big-name television commercials.  It is no coincidence that Guy has such a plain moniker, or that the surname Woodhouse, while having some relevancy to the world of theology and legend, recalls a rustic cabin quite detached from the fast-paced urban world.  It is also not a coincidence that both Minnie and the former tenant in the Woodhouses' apartment have herb gardens, and that our heroine is also a herb.  So when baby-happy Rosemary does get pregnant, she is advised to see a Castevet-approved obstetrician who eschews popular vitamins for the odd concoctions from Minnie's kitchen.  Rosemary also develops a liking for raw meat and an unwell, chalky complexion, all the while suffering from extreme abdominal pain that her doctor assures her will pass "in a couple of days."  Yet it is another malodorous herb, the so-called "tannis root," that Rosemary wears in a metal sphere vaguely reminiscent of a mezuzah necklace which will identify someone who might be complicit in the swirling mysteries around her pregnancy – and we can safely end our plot summary right about here. 

Those of us curious about factual detail may be disappointed to learn that tannis root does not really exist, or if it does, it is classified under an entirely different name (the books that come into Rosemary's possession also appear to be a compost of the writings of occult scholars although this author's contributions are detectable).  What is omitted from this review is a scene of graphic importance that may or may not be an event in the human sense of the world.  It is dismissed by some characters as the labor of a guilt-flayed mind, but Rosemary herself feels that what happens to her one cloudy evening is as real as Guy's skyrocketing career.  This perception of reality leads her and, by extension, us to wonder about many details absent in less subtle scripts.  Why are Roman's ears pierced?  Why does Guy come home one day in full makeup as if he were summoned from work for some urgent business?  How does Guy know who plays the recorder in the strange chanting sessions hosted by the Castevets?  Why does Guy's main competitor for a role suddenly wake up blind?  Why were two of Hutch's grandchildren delivered by the same obfuscating doctor seeing to Rosemary?  The film's poorly-kept secret notwithstanding, one can relish the slow and methodical tension because it never devolves into hysteria or bloodletting.  We know what kind of game is afoot, so our only questions will involve what fate precisely will befall Rosemary and her unborn child ("Andy or Jenny," she says, speaking to it often).  A hint in that direction takes place when Rosemary palms her mouth gobsmacked at a shop window nativity scene and we hear a long and plaintive "no"  only to see, appropriately enough, its ventriloquizing source, Minnie, approaching her pregnant neighbor.  That would explain Roman's conspicuous New Year's Eve toast.  That would also explain what comes with the Fall.          

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