Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
In his non-fiction text Danse Macabre, author Stephen King proposes that writers of horror capitalize on current anxiety.
While he does not offer insight into the film Rosemary’s Baby, he does comment on the basis of the film
which he admits “is remarkably true to [Ira] Levin’s novel” (279). Which is a sentiment
shared by Levin (280). What applies to the novel, therefore, applies to the film. However,
King erroneously concludes that the main theme of Rosemary’s Baby is “urban paranoia” - a phrase he mentions
on three occasions (284, 288, 289).
The theme of Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby is control.
The film is set during the time of the feminist movement. In the film, a woman is being controlled
by forces that control her by different forms of deception: game playing, manipulation, and lies. They
try to control what she eats, what she reads, and who her friends are. They maintain control by scheming
behind her back. They confine her to an apartment where, no matter how many times she escapes, she always
When we first meet Rosemary’s husband Guy, his first words are a lie. Guy Woodhouse lies about his
profession (i.e. agreeing with the apartment manager of the Bramford who mistakes him for a doctor) and the quality of plays
he acted in. In the elevator and later in the bedroom, Guy imitating the manager as he stands in back of
him is a metaphor for for what happens behind Rosemary’s back. Foreshadowing is evident in the former
apartment occupant - Mrs. Gardenia - being in a coma before she eventually died which will happen to Rosemary’s friend
Edward Hutchins known affectionately as “Hutch. Rosemary sees but fail to understand both the words
of Mrs. Gardenia (“I can no longer associate my self” and the reason why she moved the secretary to prevent the
closet door from opening. Guy playfully suggests to the manager that his wife is trying to manipulate him
into lowering the rent when she praises the apartment.
Like Guy, Hutch begins with “a lie” - that he wanted
to inform the management of the Bramford that the Woodhouses were “drug addicts and litterbugs” because the building
has a sordid history involving witchcraft and devil worship.
The Woodhouses’ ability to hear what is being said in the
next apartment occupied by the Castevets makes a statement that the Castevets can also hear them. And what
they hear one evening is group chanting.
Rosemary meets Theresa Gionoffrio., who was befriended by the Castevets, in
the laundry room. A fence in the laundry room area, at first, seems out of place, but it is one of many
symbols of Rosemary being trapped in a place from which she cannot escape. The trapped feeling also applies
to Theresa who, when she discovers that she is fulfilling a purpose for the Castevets, flees from her destiny by committing
Locked in her religious upbringing, Rosemary misses a verbal clue when she misinterprets Minnie Castevets’s castigation
of her husband Roman following Theresa’s death:
Sometimes I wonder how come you’re the leader
of anything .... If you’d listened to me, we
had to do this! We’d have been
all set to go now
instead of having to start
all over from scratch! .... I told you not to
tell her in advance! I told you she wouldn’t
Unbeknownst to Rosemary,
starting from scratch means finding a replacement for Theresa. During Minnie’s first visit to the
Woodhouse’s apartment, she discovers that Rosemary has no children, but plans to and that Guy’s ambition is to
be a leading actor. She manipulates Rosemary into agreeing to accept her dinner invitation by characterizing
herself as a lonely woman who has recently suffered a loss. Minnie also demonstrates persistence: “Listen,
you tell [Guy] I won’t take no for an answer.” Rosemary, in turn, manipulates Guy, despite
his objection, by sulking and adding “only if you want to [go]”.
During dinner with the Castevets, Rosemary religious affiliation
is tested by Roman’s heretical remarks and his reference to Luther, a play Guy acted in. Roman shows
an interest in Guy’s work, states a connection he had with the theater, and states the importance of having an “initial
break”. In the kitchen away from her husband, Rosemary engages Minnie’s questions about Rosemary’s
family and their fertility. As Rosemary looks behind her, smoke emanates from the area where the two men
are quietly talking (and where there’s smoke, there’s fire). When the two women reenter the
living room, Guy seems almost embarrassed and uncomfortable by their appearance. As the Woodhouses leave
the Castevets’ apartment, Guy has overcome his aversion to having a relationship with a lonely couple and shows a sudden
interest in returning to talk more to Roman about the theater which Rosemary doesn’t have to be part of.
unexpectedly arrives at Rosemary’s door with fellow neighbor Laura-Louise McBurney, they begin to invade her life as
they enter, sit on the sofa, and begin to knit. Minnie giving Rosemary a foul smelling amulet identical
to the one that Theresa makes a statement that Rosemary will be Theresa’s replacement. When Rosemary initially objects
to accept it, Minnie manipulates her by saying that by having it in her hand, she already has, asking her to wear it, and
explaining that she’ll get used to the smell. When Guy sees the amulet, he encourages her to wear
it by describing it as “pretty”. When Rosemary complains about the odor, Guy intones: “Not
too bad though.” When she removes it, he adds: “Well, if you took it, you ought to wear it.”
good news when he discovers that actor Donald Baumgart who was chosen for a role suddenly went “blind” and “can’t
see”. Guy is offered and accept the part and leaves the apartment to take a walk. This
is the first of many scenes in which Guy does this, and since the film is told from Rosemary’s point of view, we don’t
exactly know where he does go. But it is reasonable to assume that since the news stems from the involvement
of the Castevets, he visits them to share it which is done behind Rosemary’s back.
We briefly see a chess set
on three occasions: when Rosemary is alone in the apartment after Guy decides to take a walk, when Guy is practicing with
crutches, and when Rosemary is with Minnie. Chess is one of many games in the film that are used as symbols
for the metaphoric games that are played with Rosemary. Other board games are Scrabble and a checker board
in a cabinet which is briefly seen when Rosemary later uses the Scrabble piece to unearthen a clue. Baseball
is suggested by the use of Yankee Stadium where the Pope attends a congregation on the evening of Rosemary’s impregnation.
Tennis is suggested when Rosemary playfully says, “Tannis, anyone?”
This leads to more breaks for
Guy in the film. Rosemary describes Guy as being “hot” - a word taken in another context that
could describe his Satanic affiliation. Guy is also being considered for the lead in a television series.
has to reciprocate with a child. This leads to Guy romancing Rosemary with roses and an interest in having
a child. On the evening of their sexual connection, Minnie makes an unexpected visit with chocolate mousse
for dessert. When Rosemary complains about the taste, Guy manipulates her into eating at least part of
it by saying that there is no chalky undertaste, that Minnie slaved all day preparing it, and that “there’s always
something” to complain about. She relents, but deceives him by dumping the major portion of the dessert
in a napkin on her lap. When Rosemary suddenly feels dizzy, Guy lies about the source: He blames the alcohol
she consumed. He also lies about their postponing sex until the next evening.
dream is significant because she is partially awake not having consumed all of the drugged dessert. In
her dream, Hutch is separated from her which is what the devil worshippers want to achieve - to isolate her from her friends
so they become a surrogate family; Hutch forecasting disaster is his early warning about the Bramford. When
she is moving toward the ceiling, her body is really being elevated to be brought elsewhere which is evident when inclement
occurs in her dream. Rosemary sees what will later be identified as paintings on the walls on the Castevets’
apartment which is where she is being carried. She is surrounded by a group of chanters. Rosemary
exclaims: “This is no dream! This is really happening!” The covering of
her face is a metaphor for her inability to see the truth. Donald Baumgart is literally blind while she
is figuratively blind; in a later scene, Rosemary will walk across a street to a bookstore which will be the source of the
truth, but as she is crossing the street, she is not looking at the cars maneuvering around her and honking; she doesn’t
The next morning Guy lies about the scratch marks on her back which he takes credit for even though she remembers that something
inhuman raped her in her dream; Guy has become inhuman by betraying Rosemary. He also lies about having
sex with her. Later he will lie about avoiding her when it is evident that he cannot sustain prolonged
eye contact with her. Dr. Hill, her physician, lies to Rosemary about his need for more blood.
At first he explains that his nurse did not extract enough; then he stammers about the presence of sugar.
In fact, Hill did not want to alarm her about something mysterious he discovered which is an innocuous deception by
him but it is a lie nevertheless.
When Rosemary informs Guy that she is pregnant, Guy wants to
tell the Castevets. His leaving the apartment and visiting them sets us up for the place where he eventually
visits whenever he exits to go elsewhere. When he returns with the Castevets, all three begin a campaign
to get Rosemary to change her doctor so she can be surrounded by another member of their coven. Minnie
describes Dr. Sapirstein as a “one of the top obstetrician” and “the best”. Roman
adds: “One of the finest obstetricians in the country” and “a brilliant man, very sensitive”.
Guy asks rhetorically if he was on the television show Open End. When Rosemary asks about her present
doctor, Guy injects: “Oh, don’t worry about Hill. I’ll tell him something.
You know me.” This suggests that he will lie to Hill. which is what he has been doing to his
wife. Minnie takes control by making the call to Sapirstein. As Rosemary ponders names
for her child, Guy sleeps with his back to her which serves as a metaphor for betrayal by turning his back on her.
He also emits a sound which is described as a “moan” on the subtitle track of the DVD. Guy
moans because he has committed an action that would trouble anyone. Rosemary leaving bed to put on the
amulet is a sign that she is accepting the situation.
Upon their first meeting, Sapirstein appears as an avuncular
figure. However, he too wants to have Rosemary dependent on him and exclude her from others.
He advises her not to read books and not to listen to friends who may share information about their pregnancies.
He also suggests that she drink Minnie’s concoction which he describes as “fresher, safer, and more vitamin-rich”
than anything on the market. His asking her to call “night or day” is unusual for a doctor
which anyone would mistake for caring.
Guy rehearsing his role is his apartment is significant. Acting is lying,
of sorts, and this is what he is doing to Rosemary. Also the lines he is practicing (“I’m in
love with no one .... I’m a hopeless cripple.”) are revealing. He cares more about his career
and advancing in it that he does for his wife and future child. This makes him a figurative cripple although
the character he plays moves on crutches.
When pains develop, Sapirstein convinces Rosemary that they are normal and
will end in two days and that she again should not read books. To Guy, an ashen faced Rosemary complains
that she looks awful; Guy blames it on the stylish severe haircut she recently received. Rosemary
develops an urge to eat partially cooked meat; later she eats a raw liver but spits it out in disgust.
When Hutch visits, he
too reinforces her impression that something is wrong, but she objects. He notes that she has lost weight,
but she argues this is normal. Hutch states an obvious fact: “Pregnant women gain weight.
They don’t lose it.” At this point, the doorbell rings, and Roman appears supposedly
looking for Guy. What in fact happened, the Castevets overheard the conversation through their thin walls
and Roman was sent to intervene. Roman supports Rosemary’s weight loss and Minnie’s concoctions.
As the three sit, Rosemary is framed in the foreground on the left of the screen with Hutch on the right; Roman is
in the background in the middle. The placement of characters (mise-en-scene) defines Roman’s purpose
- to come between Rosemary and her friend. Roman’s parting words to Hutch (“We’ll meet
again, I’m sure”) are ominous for there is one more thing that has to be done before Hutch is dispatched with.
And the person assigned to do this is Guy who unexpectedly enters the apartment and does what he is sent to do (off-screen)
- take a personal item of Hutch (a glove) to be used for a later purpose. When Rosemary mentions that Hutch
also noticed her appearance, Guy adds that Hutch never has anything good to say. Roman is gone, followed
by Hutch, and finally Guy with glove supposedly in hand to give to the Castevets.
When Hutch calls, Guy gets from Rosemary
the time and place where Hutch wants to meet her. He again exits the apartment to get ice cream which,
like the other times, he did so, is a lie. When Hutch does not appear at the appointed time and place,
Rosemary calls and discovers from Hutch’s friend Grace Cardiff that he, like the former tenant of her apartment, has
lapsed into a coma. Minnie suddenly appears, summons a cab (by a whistle as a symbol of control), and delvers
her to the confines of her apartment.
One clue which is never questioned occurs at the New Year’s party attended by Rosemary,
Guy, Sapirstein, the Castevets, and other old neighbors from the building - the coven. As the new year
approaches, someone says aloud: “To 1966! The Year One!” The Year One will
only make sense when we learn that the son of the devil will be born during that year. And just as our
calendar is based on the year of Christ, the coven celebrates the birth of another figure.
At this point, Rosemary begins
to resist efforts to control her life. She decides to have a party with “young friends” - her
friends which she has ignored in spite of Guy’s objection that Sapirstein should be consulted first. Rosemary
refusing Minnie’s invitation to help at the party and her pouring her concoction doing the drain indicates a new beginning
for her. At Rosemary’s party, Guy’s worst nightmare is realized: Guests comment on Rosemary’s
appearance and Guy has the unpleasant task of maneuvering them away from her. In the kitchen with a female
friend, Rosemary is asked about her relationship with Hill as Guy overhears in the background. When Rosemary
mentions that she has changed doctors, Guy intervenes and asks to woman to help him with something thereby removing her from
Rosemary’s company - an act of manipulation. In the kitchen, Rosemary is surrounded by a support
group of sympathetic females who refuse Guy’s entrance and who listen as the distressed Rosemary complains about the
pains and Sapirstein ignoring her. Someone referring to Sapirstein as a “sadistic nut” contrasts
with a previous characterization of him as “sensitive”. They insist that Rosemary get a second
After the guests, have left, Rosemary echoes the sentiments expressed by her peers and mentions that Sapirstein has probably
been “lying” to her. Guy rallies to keep matters the way they are by arguing that Sapirstein
is the best, that Hill is second rate, that having a third opinion is costly, and another consultation is “unfair to
Sapirstein”. When the pains suddenly disappear, Rosemary has a briefly respite from her anxieties
and returns to normal by bringing Minnie and her magic herbs back into her life. However, a telephone call
is the beginning of the end of her happiness.
Rosemary receives the unpleasant news that Hutch has died. At
the cemetery, she meets Grace Cardiff and is given a present left by Hutch to her with a cryptic message that the name is
an anagram. The present is a book profiling witches one being Adrian Marcato who Hutch previously mentioned
lived in the Bramford. Through the rearranging of letter using Scrabble tiles, Rosemary discovers that
Adrian’s son Steven Marcato is an anagram for Roman Castevet.
When she reports the information to Guy, he lies by reassuring
her that Roman may be the son, but he is not a witch. He objects when she suggests that they relocate.
He removes the book from her possession. When she mentions this to Sapirstein, the doctor lies about
the Castevets going to Europe which placates her into staying. As she and Guy see the Castevets prepare
to go to the airport, she lies to Roman by hoping that he will “come back”. In her apartment,
Rosemary learns that Hutch’s present is missing. Guy lies about the reason why he threw it away -
that he was thinking about her. This motivates her to get rid of the amulet and to seek more texts on witchcraft,
and information prompts her to call Donald Baumgart whom she discovers was blind after giving a personal item - a tie - to
Guy. Rosemary lies about her knowing about their meeting. Reasoning that Guy may be
a part of the coven, she packs and visits Dr. Sapirstein. As she waits in the doctor’s office, Sapirstein’s
secretary comments that she is pleased that Rosemary no longer has the unpleasant scent which Sapirstein also had.
Connecting Sapirstein with the coven, Rosemary excuses herself by lying that she will return after she talks to her
husband who is waiting outside.
She walks to a nearby telephone booth where she proceeds to contact Dr. Hill who is unavailable
but will return her call. As a woman walks in the direction of the booth, Rosemary pretends (a form of
a lie) that she is engaging in a conversation. When Hill eventually returns her call, Hill reveals the
lie that Guy told him - that they were in California; she accuses her present doctor of “lying” to her.
As they talk, an elderly man looking like Sapirstein stands with his back to her,
and this gives meaning to the other examples of the things that are done to Rosemary behind her back. After
Rosemary notices him, he is replaced by another man who is not Sapirstein, and when Rosemary sees his face she is reassured
that everything will be fine after she gets to Hill’s office which will be a sanctuary of sorts.
office, Rosemary reiterates that Guy “lied to” Hill. She presents all of the evidence linking
people and events with witchcraft. But when she mentions that her new doctor is Abraham Sapirstein, this
causes with Hill who obviously is concerned with Rosemary’s mental health. While he ushers Rosemary
into an examination room where he asks her to rest, he lies by convincing her that he will find a room at the hospital.
“Even a broom closet would be fine,” she jokes. He makes another phone call (off-screen)
and Guy arrives with Sapirstein. The place of asylum has become a trap. She is also trapped after she is
escorted into a car where she sits in the back between Guy and Sapirstein.
When she is brought back to the Bramford, Rosemary deceives her
captors by dropped her purse as they near the elevator, and the contents scatter on the floor; when Guy, Sapirstein, and the
elevator operator begin to retrieve them, Rosemary hijacks the elevator and locks and chains the door to her apartment despite
the protestations of Guy who lies to her by swearing that he never promised anyone her baby. In bedroom,
she makes a call to a friend who is unavailable, but behind her skulks the conspirators. Soon everyone
walks into her bedroom, and as she tries to flee, she to trapped on the bed where she is sedated. When
the friend returns Rosemary’s call, Guy lies that his wife isn’t home even though she is in the same room in labor.
the birth, Rosemary is told a lie - that her baby died. Seven times she screams: “You’re lying!”
When Rosemary is more relaxed, Guy attributes her delusions to pre-partum hysteria. He does indicate
that all is going well: Both Paramount and Universal studios are interested in him. When Rosemary hears
the faint sound of a baby crying, one source denies it exists, but Guy says that there is a baby on another floor. Rosemary
develops a strategy to determine the truth for herself: First she pretend to take the sedatives she is given, then she pretend
to contaminate her breast milk which she is told is thrown away, finally she plans to enter the Castevet apartment through
the closet door which was concealed when the story began.
As Rosemary removes the shelving from the closet, she is in a
short period of darkness until light appears from the Castevet apartment where she will discover the truth. This
is a metaphor for Rosemary begin in the dark for most of the film until she finally learns the truth - that her baby was not
going to be used for the coven’s rituals, but the child needs to be preserved because he is not Guy’s son but
the son of the devil. In the apartment are the Castevets and unfamiliar faces who are paying tribute to
the son of Satan who’s name is Adrian suggesting that Rosemary did not even have control over the name of her child.
In the film’s final scene, the baby begins to cry, and Rosemary notes that Laura-Louise is rocking it too fast.
Roman asks her to intercede, and manipulates her with a logic that appeals to her maternal instincts.
Roman: Rock him.
Rosemary: You’re trying
to get me to be his mother.
Roman: Aren’t you his mother?
Rosemary is controlled in her limited environment which is the Bramford.
Her world is a confined one where she is trapped. The following examples serve as metaphors for
her controlled environment:
booth where she calls Dr. Hill, the kitchen in the Woodhouse apartment where an intervention is staged by her female friends,
the elevator where Rosemary evades her captors, the fenced area in the laundry room, Hill’s office where Rosemary is
framed within his doorway, Hill’s examination room, Rosemary in the back of a car between her husband and doctor, the
mattress Rosemary sleeps on which is in the middle of the ocean, the yacht, the closet which bridges the Woodhouse and Castevet
apartments, Rosemary’s reference to a “broom closet”, the closet where Hutch’s glove is stolen, the
bassinet that Rosemary has for her future baby, the oven where Hutch cooks dinner for the Woodhouses, the fireplace that Guy
lights on the night of Rosemary’s conception, the purse that Rosemary opens in Hills’ examination room
Rosemary going nowhere, her
return to the Bramford, and her constantly changing feelings about the Castevets from belief in Castevets to disbelief to
belief back to disbelief are illustrated by the use of circles in the film. The word “circle”
is incorporated into the dialogue: A television broadcaster announces that the Pope is “making a full circle of the
The following have a circular shape:
Minnie’s amulet, the design on
the cover of
the Witchcraft text, the peephole where
notices Minnie, the October 4 and
5th dates on the 1965 calendar, a plate on
Rosemary’s table, a soupbowl and plate
containing toast when Rosemary recovery
after her delivery, a cup that Minnie
as Rosemary talks to her before she leaves
the building, frying pan in which Rosemary
partially cooked meat, the chair
Hill’s office on top of which Rosemary
places Sapirstein’s pills, the drain where
Rosemary pours Minnie’s
Woodhouse dining table, the washing machine
glass door, the design on Theresa’s dress
and Minnie’s kerchief, the
pom on Rosemary’s
beret, the light above Rosemary’s head
before she falls in the kitchen, Laura-
Louise’s magnifying glass she
uses to read
the magazine, the Pan-Am logo on Roman’s
airline tickets, the globe in Hutch’s study,
the bulb on the breast
milk extractor, the
coin slots and dial of the telephone when
Rosemary speaks to Grace Cardiff.
Objects go around body parts: the amulet given to Rosemary is placed around her neck and
Minnie’s kerchief is tied around her head.
The following movements
the motion of Rosemary’s hand as she dries
dishes in Minnie’s kitchen, the record on
Rosemary’s turntable, the
spinners atop the
police cars that arrive at the scene of a
suicide, the hand drill as a worker creates
a peephole when the Woodhouse inspect
Bramford, the corkscrew which Guy removes
from the champagne bottle, Hutch’s body as
he points in Rosemary’s
dream, the racecar
in Guy’s Yamaha commercial.
After the manager of the Bramford takes them on a tour of their future apartment,
he says, “Here we are. Back at the hallway again.”
Steven. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkley Books. 1982.