The story here starts simply, but its creeping normalcy ratchets “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) into a lasting terror.
Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her husband, Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes), move to an old apartment building on the Upper East Side in New York. She wants children. He wants to be a successful stage actor. They soon befriend a quirky old couple next door.
But there’s something wrong with the neighbors, and Rosemary starts to notice it closing in on her newlywed bliss. Her husband becomes distant, preferring the neighbors’ company. She hears weird flute noises next door and smells incense burning in the night. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she experiences a graphic dream where a horde of elderly people and then Satan himself rape her in the apartment building basement.
Finally, a disastrous pregnancy.
For those who don’t know the end already, I won’t spoil it outright. But it’s a visual approximation of W. B. Yeats’ apocalyptic phrase, “vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.”
“Rosemary’s Baby” wields outsize influence among filmmakers. Stanley Kubrick often listed it as one of his favorites. And the influence is clear. There’s a great similarity in tone between the rape scene in “Rosemary’s Baby” and the orgy sequence in Kubrick’s own New York movie, “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999). Both are depictions of degradation that unmask the diabolical implications of sexual obsession.
But Hillsdale students may be more familiar with the film’s other great disciple, Wes Anderson. Anderson also frequently ranks “Rosemary’s Baby” as his favorite film, saying, “It’s always been a big influence on me, or a source of ideas.”
But unlike Kubrick, Anderson delights in subjecting his characters to hopeless and totalizing sexual abuse. In the same way Polanski slowly winds the noose around Rosemary, Anderson loves to spin stories such as “Rushmore” (1998), where a teenager becomes hopelessly enmeshed in lust for a teacher or “Moonrise Kingdom” (2009), where two teenage outcasts redefine love on a moral heath.
For Anderson, the perverse is beautiful — and doomed entrapment is its peak. It’s no wonder he revels in imitating “Rosemary’s Baby” down to the pink baroque font in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), ripped straight from Polanski’s opening credits.
Perhaps the greatest fan of the film, however, was Charles Manson. After seeing it in theaters, he ordered members of his “family” to kill Sharon Tate, Polanksi’s then-pregnant wife. Joan Didion happened to be in the neighborhood that day, and as she recalled, “No one was surprised.”