Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Horror...The Horror...Remaking "Rosemary's Baby" for Today's Audiences

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is my favorite movie of all time. Roman Polanski is my favorite filmmaker. I'm writhing in anger as I write this. To even hear/read the word “remake” come into contact with anything related to either the film or the filmmaker causes both my gag reflexes to kick in and the hair on the back of my neck stand up with utter fright and shock. It also makes me extremely sad.

I’d like to be optimistic, but why should I lie to myself? If track records matter (and they do), then I’m likely to be 100% disappointed and disgusted because all of the harrowing, truthful ideals Polanski instills in his films, especially in Rosemary’s Baby, are going to be long-forgotten and lost in the sugarcoating process of a Hollywood remake.

I feel the need to write about this here because, in all honesty, it sums up the entire reason I’m doing this project in the first place – to make people vastly aware of the poor representations of women in Hollywood films.

There are few films in the history of cinema that articulate internal fear as successfully as Rosemary’s Baby does. There’s a horrific subtlety felt throughout that’s never really apparent, but nonetheless extremely uncomfortable. The only way I can think to describe it is to have you imagine hearing a buzz saw far off in the distance when you’re tied to a chair in a cabin somewhere in the middle of the woods. You can hear it getting closer and closer…day by day you wait, getting more impatient and unsettled as time progresses, until finally, “it” is right outside your doorstep and the buzz saw is louder than ever. No one can hear you scream. That’s what Rosemary’s Baby feels like every time I watch it.

But do you know why I feel so uncomfortable when I watch it? There aren't any blood and guts in the movie, so that's out. It’s not because of the epic chase sequence between Rosemary and her predator through the woods because one doesn’t take place. And, it’s certainly not because of the monsters (at least traditional ones), vampires, or werewolves hunting their victims because there aren’t any of those types in the movie either.

No, Rosemary’s Baby is terrifying to me because it depicts societal female normalcy for what it really is – absurd. Rosemary, played wonderfully by Mia Farrow, is a girl next door type who discovers she’s been impregnated by the devil for two reasons – one, the patriarchy of the underworld needs to be restored and two, Rosemary’s Husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), wants to advance his acting career. In exchange for Rosemary’s body, Guy gets a career boost and the devil gets a male heir for his throne. Though that is a horrifying idea in itself, the best/worst (depends on how you look at it) aspect of the film is the ending – Rosemary, even though she understands the dastardly circumstances, agrees to raise the devil’s child AND stay with her husband because being a mother is the only thing she’s ever wanted to do.

The absurdity of the situation is disguised by the swinging ‘60’s mise-en-scene and mentality – everything is colorful, everyone wears fun summer dresses and bell-bottoms, and, Rosemary herself is radiant with joy at the thought of being a mother, of moving into a new apartment with crisp white walls and raising a perfect, American family with her handsome husband. Oh what a world.

Polanski, of course, delivers the tour-de-force with his trademark chilly aesthetics and the often satirically humorous approach he takes in bringing Rosemary to the screen. No other film or filmmaker in my mind has so articulately expressed the horrors of the female role as honestly or expertly as Polanski has, which can be equated to the buzz saw metaphor I used earlier – a woman who becomes pregnant is in a sense tied down to a place she may or may not belong/want and the noise she hears is actually time ticking away towards the end of the inevitable nine months when she must give birth to her baby. The terror Rosemary feels throughout the film isn’t that she has to give birth to her baby or be a mother, it’s the fact that someone might take it – that privilege - and everything else away from her. She doesn’t even want to scream. To depict a woman who is willing to raise the devil’s spawn and stay with her evil husband just so she can attain the “ideal” of feminine value speaks volumes about our society.

Now, should I really be optimistic about some Hollywood hack remaking this film? Does anyone really think they’ll keep that underlying message there? Of course not. Mia Farrow’s Rosemary will become Jessica Alba’s (or some other inane actress’) Rosemary – a submissive, baby-hungry weakling with no purpose. The original character may be all of those things too, but her character arc (or lack thereof) serves a devout and important purpose – to show women (or men since they generally watch more horror movies than women do) how idiotic it is to sacrifice your entire self in exchange for the American female’s box of patriarchal freedom. No original or remake created in this day and age is brave enough to even attempt to capture that message, even if it is a rehash of an original story.

Pray for Rosemary's Baby not to be remade.


BraveSrRob said...

I found your blog recently and plan on sticking around for the year-long trek.

I've never seen Rosemary's Baby so I can't comment upon the movie to any degree. Michael Bay was involved with the optioning, but filmdrunk pointed out that he's optioned other horror films and not directed, so don't get too scared about his involvement.

Really though, I completely disagree with your statement about horror films being watched more by males. Just about every girl I know loves going to see horror films and only two of my male friends ever sit through the things unless their girlfriends demand it of them (Excluding the amazingly awesome Evil Dead Trilogy). That seems to be a lot more typical of the dynamic where I come from.

Sara said...

Hey there,

Thank you very much for your comments! Yeah, I heard about the Michael Bay aspect yesterday after I posted this. I hope you're right and he stays he is one of the key components to the pit of doom in modern cinema.

I myself absolutely love horror movies. I've just read studies and such that say in the grand scheme of things men are more likely to watch them than women are. I don't know why. I also think it's safe to say that the vast majority of the slasher genre is aimed at a male audience. And, based on personal experience, my guy friends dig horror flicks far more often than my gal pals do. Agree to disagree?

Well, I sincerely appreciate your comments and look forward to hearing/reading more of your insights on films in the future! Thank you :)

BraveSrRob said...

Absolutely. And sorry for only commenting on a throw away line in the post. I hate when people pick out one thing that's relatively irrelevant to the post and pick at that.

As for Bay, he is an absolute abomination as a director (I will grant he does know how to do special effects well). Also, the verizon commercial he did endears him to me because he's at least somewhat self-aware. If you haven't seen it, it's here.

Still doesn't make his movies better, but at least I know he can laugh at himself.

Alyssa said...

I was looking around for sources to help on a project I'm doing about gender in 1968 and how that is reflected in films (I am using "Rosemary's Baby" as my most valuable source in this case), I gave up looking for scholarly sources and turned to Google.

This is honestly the best thing I've found all day.

This is an excellent project and you bring up some very intelligent points.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if every one in this blog remember psychosis? although that movie was filmed for the fist time a long time ago, I still like it very much, and the girl is hot, it reminds me I have to go to the pharmacy for a Generic Viagra