American psychological horror films had a big impact on the public in 60s-70s. Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby, which was released in 1968, is one of the greatest films in this category. Its success can be explained by the popularity of the mystic themes in that historical period. An image of the devil in the movie deserves a special attention of a viewer. Evil could not be even shown to convey a horror atmosphere in the movie. This essay, first of all, will try to explain why horror films where so popular in this period. Then it will characterize and represent an evil and compare it with another mystic film – Picnic at Hanging Rock. Also, the essay will provide several examples from both films to prove derided views.
Turbulent times require different ways of thinking and perceiving of information. The 1960s and 1970s were not the easiest years in American history. According to Jamey Heit,: “At this period, times marred by four political assassinations; a bloody, senseless war; and a lying, paranoid president” (2011). There were many deaths and protests with refusals in parliament, starting from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974 with the fall of Saigon in 1975. America was absorbed by riots, protests in different social groups, and sudden deaths and violence. Newspaper headlines were full of messages about murders and terrible events during all that time. Bodies in black bags, brutality, aggressive attacks on houses, and dead teenagers in the college campuses where more real than a comfortable and quiet life. Due to those frightening events and daily inexplicable violence, social interest was intended to obtain more information and explanations. That is why an evil was more attractive than any logical findings. “The idea that evil was a real force in the world was being reconsidered more seriously than ever before” (Heit, 2011). This social attitude was shown in the horror films of that time.
An enormous success of Rosemary’s Baby confirms the fact, that society was interested more in mysteries and fantastic proofs rather than in real life. This film denies any explanations about supernatural and accepts the metaphysical nature of good and evil. Paranoia, which was justified in a film by the Satanism, recalls to public its own chaos and uncertainly.
Speaking about the film as a whole, it could be said that the main attention goes straightly on the image of the Devil, the most terrible force. The look of Rosemary’s husband represents the devilish essence. His corrupted and materialistic attitudes towards life frighten and focus on his behavioral change. Polanski shows the Devil as a demonic but an external force that can transform a man in the frightening creature that pursues targets that do not justify the means. Fame and fortune become true privileges. Baby’s life becomes less meaningful than other benefits like power, money, and glory. Devilish essence is shown not only by the example of Guy Woodhouse, the husband of Rosemary. The coven, with its leader Roman Castevet, also shows their manic desire to control and conquer in the name of the Devil.
There are many ambiguities in this film. "Though Polanski's screenplay close to Levin's original story, the movie maximizes the ambiguity between paranoid projection and real events that the novel repeatedly strives to resolve" (Waller, 1987). A viewer does not see a particular difference between a reality and Rosemary’s perception of it. Polanski creates a fantastic but uncertain difference between the reality and Rosemary’s mind and body. Insanity plays a big role, as it grows with the influence of Satanism in her life. An improving of inhuman face of a main heroine shows her hopelessness and even imprisonment. At the night of conception, Rosemary drinks too much, eats a chocolate mousse, and cannot control any actions of her husband Guy. This impregnation was against her will: “When Guy tells Rosemary that he “didn't want to miss baby night”, he acknowledges not just an act of “necrophile” penetration, as he puts it the morning after, but impregnation as well" (Clover, 1993). There are the moments of satanic violence and devils presence in every scene. For example, in the final scenes, Rosemary tries to run from her destiny and consults another doctor, who is, however, concerned that she is insane and calls her husband. Rosemary tries to lock the door and call her friend, but Guy, with a help of coven gets an access to the flat. The main heroine is taken under control of evil power at the end of the film too, when she understands that she cannot suppress her maternal instincts and becomes a real mother to her child. That is why, the devil could be characterized here not as a particular character but as a power that can change an inner world and state of mind of a whole body. In Rosemary’s child, the figure of Satan highly interacts with Western esotericism and reveals its way of thinking and attitudes towards their own wishes and needs.
Polanski focuses mostly not on the horror genre itself but on the monstrous characteristics and looks. While watching this movie, person likes monstrous appearance of a protagonist. Rosemary’s look changes during a film, and it makes an accent on her body and a child inside her, not on coven and her devilish husband. Satanism dictates her actions, and she even eats meat and likes it. The role of the devil remains only in the change of a personal look and action. A viwer does not see the Devil himself, and there is no need in this because he is shown as a mystical power that operates people’s lives like a puppeteer.
Comparing the role of the supernatural over the mind of a human in this film, some similarities can be traced in another film - Picnic at Hanging Rock. As in Rosemary’s Child, this film tells a story about innocent women who became the victims of mysterious force. Picnic at Hanging Rock has no mention about the Devil or some certain powers but it shows how something, which is beyond the human mind, can change the way of thinking and behavior. Making parallels, it could be mentioned that the mystical power does not appeal from nowhere. It always has a source. In Polanski’s movie, it is a place and a coven itself, and in Picnic at Hanging Rock by Peter Weir, it is the place with a strong energetics. It is similar to a portal to another dimension, but there are no explanations and clarifications. In those two movies, young women with an angelic appearance become the objects for the action of supernatural forces. Those hidden powers are rather intangible than material, and they are shown as ones that control consciousness of the main heroines. The changing behavior of Rosemary is a product of coven actions. The main heroines in the Picnic at Hanging Rock express this change in another way. While Rosemary tries to change the situation, girl’s minds and thoughts are under the full control of higher powers. Those two films, expressing different ideas and states of minds, carry some distinct and similar features of the supernatural and devilish.
To add a few words about the religious side of the film, it could be said that there is a big portion of parody in it. Director has always been inclined to satirize religious beliefs. “The birth of Rosemary’s child parodies the birth of Christ, an ironic complication that obscures the clear antagonism between the good and evil” (Waller, 1987). In this film, a viewer can see this by an example of pastor appearance, while the process of fertilization is made by a devil. In addition, there is a moment with a babies cradle at the end of the film. It is all in black with an inverted cross instead of the toys.
Additionally, in the movie, the director also pays a big attention to colors, textures and the whole environment. For example, in the decisive night, Rosemary wears a red dress and becomes a victim of the story. Here, there is a parallel with Picnic at Hanging, when the girl, who was found, came in the red dress to her friends and was accused in not telling the truth instead of friendly meeting. In both cases, women play the role of a victim without a particular reason.
To sum up, Rosemary’s Baby is a great representative of the horror films with the devilish essence. During the whole story, a strong satanic power tries to control every aspect of people’s life. If a hero does not obey, supernatural forces can harm or strengthen their control immediately. This film has many ambiguities and uncertainties. The role of the higher powers in Rosemary`s Baby and in Picnic at Hanging Rock is in the full transformation of a personal inner world and a perception of it. Insanity is shown as a main key of the devilish force. That is why the role of the evil in Rosemary`s Baby is predominant and regarded as the strongest power that can change human soul.
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