Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Polanski deliberately emphasizes Rosemary's Catholic upbringing in both of her dream sequences. How does the Catholic imagery in these sequences helps characterize Rosemary, and how does this imagery interface with other themes in the film?

    Polanski critiques Catholicism by linking it to Rosemary's capacity to tolerate and withstand abuse, accusations, and shame. In the first dream sequence, a nun named Sister Agnes berates Rosemary for breaking a window, although in reality Minnie and Roman terrorized Terry Gionoffrio into leaping out of it. This emotional transference, from external violence to internal guilt, defines Rosemary throughout the film. It occurs again in an even more intense form in the second dream when Rosemary, while being bound and sexually assaulted by Satan, confesses to the Pope. With these images, Polanski is linking the ideology of the Catholic Church with its violent treatment of submissive female bodies. Connections between Catholicism and celebrity culture are numerous, such as when Guy watches the Pope in Yankee Stadium, or when Roman compares the "costumes and "rituals" of the church to theater. The implication of the critique is that Catholicism is merely a hollow, money-making enterprise.

  2. 2

    The Bramford is central to the plot of the film, almost becoming a character in and of itself. Examine the characterization and anthropomorphic qualities of The Bramford—the atmosphere it projects, the qualities it bears, and the functions it performs.

    The Bramford is both antiquated and modern—an exclusive, hip residence filled with centuries of sinister history. The rickety manual elevator in the film's opening scene suggests a certain old-fashioned quality that contrasts with its glamorous reputation. Most importantly, The Bramford conceals secrets in multiple ways: physically, as with the chamber Rosemary finds behind the hall closet, and historically, as with the history of the Trench Sisters and the Marcato coven. For Rosemary, the Bramford is a prison, and also a kind of Hell: an evil place from which she cannot escape. When she takes her hospital suitcase and goes to Dr. Hill's office, she is returned there by Guy and Dr. Sapirstein. Finally, the Bramford functions as the story's Gothic castle: an imposing edifice inside which occur supernatural events that Rosemary, as the protagonist, must struggle to understand and piece together into a comprehensible narrative.

  3. 3

    The gulf between male and female authority generates tension and anxiety throughout the film. Analyze how the film's male authority figures devalue Rosemary's testimony and experience as a woman, and how these moments contribute to the development of the plot.

    With the exception of Hutch, every male character in Rosemary's Baby functions to reduce Rosemary's agency and ability to trust her own perceptions. These perceptual differences tend to break down along gender lines. For instance, Rosemary enjoys her new Vidal Sassoon haircut, while Guy calls it "the worst mistake of her life." Whereas Rosemary thinks Minnie's chocolate mousse has a "chalky," undertaste, Guy thinks it tastes fine. These seemingly innocent difference of opinion quickly grow sinister, and actually signal the fact that Guy and the other male characters are participating in a coordinated effort to remove Rosemary's autonomy from her completely. Dr. Sapirstein's widely accepted medical authority allows him to make shockingly false diagnoses about Rosemary's pain and weight loss. Only Rosemary's female friends offer her valuable advice, and it is only when Rosemary reads the book that Hutch left for her that she begins to trust her own intuitions and perceptions about what is really happening to her at The Bramford.

  4. 4

    How does Rosemary's Baby link religion to the notion of performance?

    Polanski links religion and performance in Rosemary's first dream, which unfolds in a space that the script specifies should resemble a cross between a Catholic school and an Orpheum Cinema. Later, at dinner with the Castevets, Roman remarks that the Pope never travels anyplace where newspapers are on strike, implying that papal authority is merely a performance. The night Rosemary and Guy try to conceive, Guy is watching the Pope at Yankee Stadium on television, another example of religion-as-spectacle. Rosemary's second dream combines Catholic imagery with a yacht—a symbol of West coast affluence and celebrity culture. All of these symbols suggest that Polanski views the Catholic Church as a venal, self-interested institution, whose goal is to make money and entertain the masses, rather than provide serious moral solutions or theological guidance.

  5. 5

    The ominous, evil forces in the film often hide behind with ordinary, dull, and even banal exteriors. Choose one symbol in the film and analyze how its surface/exterior functions to conceal its portentous substance/interior.

    The film's opening credit sequence, in which a calligraphic pink typeface flashes over a sinister lullaby, is the first major instance of Polanski's tendency to drape ominous content in a lovely form. The credits resemble the kind of font used in wedding invitations, and inject a delicate, feminine energy into a sequence that is otherwise portentous and unsettling. The sequence ends when the camera lands on The Bramford, zooming out to show the building in its entirety. Thus, the beautiful-yet-menacing credits foreshadow the beautiful-yet-menacing Bramford, a highly desirable apartment complex that houses unspeakable evil.