By Joshua Lyon
In June 1968, Rosemary’s Baby kicked off a deluge of films about devilish kids like The Omen and The Exorcist, but none were as female-focused or remain as politically relevant as the mother of them all.
Director Roman Polanski stayed reverentially faithful to his source material, Ira Levin’s 1967 novel of the same name, in which young couple Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) move into a gothic building with a shady past. They befriend their quirky older neighbors, who secretly convince Guy to sell his wife’s womb to Satan.
The film maintains a delicate ambiguity about whether it’s all in Rosemary’s head until the end, but the underlying message is not as subtle. Oral contraceptives were legalized in the United States in 1965, the same year the story starts, and fights about a woman’s rights over her own body were strong. The movie is peppered with signs of the true enemy: A book titled “The Man,” near their bed. “Man,” played in a game of Scrabble. When her husband (literally named Guy) hides a book about witches, he stashes it above a copy of “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.”
Rosemary has a rebellious streak, but once she gets pregnant, all her agency is crushed. She’s isolated from friends, constantly told not to read, and forced to drink foul Tannis Root. When she finally escapes, she’s handed right back to the coven. Everyone hates her chic, short Vidal Sassoon haircut.
In the final scene, Rosemary’s maternal instinct draws her to a black-curtained cradle to soothe the beastly infant, revealing the only piece of control she has left—ownership of the very thing that was forced upon her. The kid may be the son of Satan, but he’s still, after all, Rosemary’s baby.