New Criticals

In Rosemary’s Baby, the modern world continues to issue its demands, but now in a different voice and on a different body; we move from London to Manhattan, to a young married mother-to-be fending off the invasive interventions of others—husbands, neighbours, and doctors—and the insistent claims made by the growing life that her body serves to host.  In both cases the demands are alien and life-sucking (satanic or infantile), insisting that she sacrifice her own life—her life without pain, her life of movement and consciousness, of autonomy and sanity—in order that the other may prosper.  Over the course of the film, all bonds with peers, any real community, are severed: her friends die, she becomes too weak to leave her home, and her husband begins to pull away from her changing body (he starts sleeping in pajamas and hates her haircut); of course, the fact that he had sex with her, raped her, while she dreamt of being drugged and bound by a satan-worshipping cult of geriatrics breaks their bond fairly completely.

Like Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby strikes an incredible balance between representing a woman come undone and suggesting that this is not the wrong response to have.  Even while Rosemary and Carol are in some sense mad, this madness retains a kind of appropriateness as a way of negotiating an impossible situation.  In achieving this balance, the films suggest that a woman’s world is in some sense impossible, that the claims made on her body and person are excessive, alien, perverse and self-satisfying.  And the effectiveness of these claims, their ability to take root, depends on their pathologizing, undermining, and ridiculing women’s experience and judgment.  When Rosemary’s Dr. Saperstein—recommended by neighbour Minnie—insists that she not read any books and that her incessant pain is normal, he speaks not only as a satanist but as a member of the (exclusively male) medical community with its protected knowledge and institutionalized power.