This essay presents a deconstruction of my favorite movie, “Rosemary’s Baby”. I’ve been itching to deconstruct, queer, and generally interrogate that defenseless reel of celluloid. Academics these days officiously say they’re “interrogating” this or that subject— Fatimid ceramics, Flaubert’s style, American historiography, you name it. I’d like to interrogate the academics themselves, but with more traditional, tried-and-true practical techniques that yield answers. Waterboarding, for a start. Ah so, Professor. We have ways of making you talk in intelligible English (or German, you get the idea).
Folks are deconstructing this nation’s history in more than literary ways these days. A year ago one wrote in this column about the mobs defacing or pulling down monuments to, inter alia, the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen, a Wisconsin Abolitionist, and an elk. Now it appears President Theodore Roosevelt’s doomed, too: his equestrian eidolon, flanked by two attractively plumed noble savages on foot, is soon to be consigned to America’s memory hole. I saw it in April on a walk up Central Park West and thought it had been spared the ax of the “woke”, a.k.a. the living dead. What’s to be done once it’s gone? Might one suggest that a group sculpture of Tlaib, Omar, Pelosi, Waters, Ocasio-Cortez, Warren, and Harris, manacled to each other or piled in a pyramid, be cast in bronze to grace the vacated plinth on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History in the City of New York. Such an august assemblage of statespersons evokes a dream vision in Scripture and one would name it accordingly: Seven Fat Cows.
In the interim, Congress might offer gainful employment to out-of-work members of the Taliban team. There being no more colossal Buddha statues left in Afghanistan to desecrate, why not pay the lads to dynamite the cyclopean visages of all those pale-faced colonialists on Mount Rushmore? Your indefatigable reporter once composed some verses mentioning the place, inspired by that privileged and toxically male white Southern poetaster, Edgar Allan Poe, whose politically incorrect poems will doubtless soon vanish from the shelves. Said the raven, “Nevermore”. Really? Why ravens, precisely? Sounds racist to me. Leave the negativity to a white bird. “Nevermore,” cooed the dove before she was canceled, olive twig and all. “Black Birds Matter,” quoth the raven.
In the fiddly month of Iiyr,
In the demon-crazed month of Iiyr,
At the Income Tax time of the year,
It was then that I wandered so frantic,
And tripped down the inclines gigantic,
And stumbled down inclines gigantic,
Like the snows that rush black down Mount Rushmore,
The black snows sent back from Mount Rushmore
To be cleaned at the Boreal Pole,
Where diners consume lemon sole.
It was there that I wandered with Psyche, my soul,
Or, strolled with Psyche, my soul,
Or, walked briskly with Psyche, my soul,
Or, set off at a dog trot with Psyche, my soul
(Leave all of them. — E. A. P.)
Once at Knizhnyi Mir bookshop on Nevsky Prospect I asked for a book on Edgar Allen Poe in Russian literature. “There is no such person as Edgar Allan Poe!” the irate woman attendant said. “American writer? Strange tales? Ulalume?” I murmured timidly. “Oh,” she shouted. “Edgahr PAW!” If you find yourself in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, ladies and gentlemen, remember that Poe in Russian has no middle name! Do you understand? Do you?
* * *
Well, I’ve got some deconstructing to do here myself. Poe’s imp of the perverse is knocking at the door. Ready the critical wrecking ball, get set, go.
You are undoubtedly familiar with Roman Polanski’s spooky, insidious, unnerving classic of the cinematographic art, “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). Wikipedia describes it as “a psychological horror film”, and that is no doubt how the homme moyen sensuel, the philistine, the vulgar bourgeois theater-goer, might understand it. Perhaps that is even how its director intended it. But who cares? Bring on the vol au vent! Authorial intention is, as we well know, a chimerical construct of the Oppressors intended (or whatever, “intended” is clearly not le mot juste here) to perpetuate hegemonic exploitation of the Oppressed. Like, your kids are learning all this in kindergarten. Get with the program.
This is what the movie really means. The house lights dim. Portentous music. The camera pans slowly over the green expanse of the park and the massive towers of Fifth Avenue and Central Park West, coming to rest and zero in on the gothic Dakota apartment building, which was later to be home to that white male colonialist oppressor John Lennon. Not Lenin. Lennon. Among his many sins, Lennon wrote “Imagine there’s no heaven” which is an insult to Islam (which still has a heaven; I expect progressive Judaism and Christianity will by now have dispensed with the afterlife). He got what was coming to him for his blasphemy. Like Salman Rushdie. And I’ll bet my bottom dinar that the avenger was really one of our Taliban fellows avant la lettre. But let us not dwell on Lennon Truther trivia, for while I jabber, scene one has begun.
A handsome, talented young actor, Guy Woodhouse, played by John Cassavetes, is house-hunting in the company of his shrewish wife Rosemary, the type-cast Mia Farrow. She’s a spiteful little hoyden with a mean, bony mug whose annoying whine grates on the viewer’s ear ab initio. They rent a large, pleasantly-furnished apartment at the Dakota (called the “Bram” in the movie) whose previous tenant, an elderly woman lawyer, has just expired. The old bag, evidently a paranoid maniac, pushed a heavy Victorian secretary against the door of the hall closet before she croaked. You’re supposed to think the closet connected her apartment to that of a coven of devil worshippers and she was trying to keep them out but they performed a spell on her. Yeah, yeah. The hell, as it were, with Polanski’s intended subtext. We’re deconstructing here, guys.
Farrow’s character, Rosemary, meets another loquacious female, of lower-class parentage, in the laundry room, and the two idly gossip. Something goes bump in the dark. They say “Ooh!” Later that evening the other gal, who as it happens had been charitably employed by other residents of the Dakota whom we’re presently to meet, leaps to her death from the window but fortunately does not injure any pedestrians in her spiteful act of self-destruction (which, might I remind you, is illegal). But no cloud is without a silver lining, and accordingly the mess on the sidewalk of West 72nd Street becomes the serendipitous occasion for the young Woodhouse couple— who have been out enjoying the Big Apple— to meet their charming elderly neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Roman and Minnie Castavet. The latter character is played by Ruth Gordon, whose folksy New York accent and Jewish-mother-like ways instantly endear her to the audience, who have already taken a dislike to Farrow’s cold-hearted, mean-spirited, out-of-town character. I was going to write “Midwestern bitch” but my better half says that might offend people from the heartland of this great Republic, so I didn’t write it. (I like those tee shirts that say: Welcome to New York. Now please go home.)
Later on, in bed, the ill-bred Rosemary eavesdrops through the thin partition wall on the Castavets’ private domestic banter, which is punctuated by Minnie’s bray, “Roman, bring me a root beer when you come!” Please note that she wants root beer, sarsaparilla– an organic beverage with a light carbon footprint, not a synthetic, industrial, cola-based potation of the young and barbarous. It transpires that Roman is also a much-venerated community organizer, yea, a religious leader. But we do not find out that much about his particular faith just yet, because Rosemary has begun to doze off and her neurotic subconscious interposes scenes of her obnoxious girlhood self, when she was a tattletale, a snitch, at Catholic school. “I told Sister Veronica about it and she withdrew the school from the competition.” Farrow the killjoy.
While Rosemary leisurely paints the new flat a dull white and installs tasteless, sparse modern furniture, her hard-working husband, who has been supporting her by making deadening though lucrative television commercials, is out looking for a more fulfilling, creative job in the theater. He comes home for lunch, fatigued, and absent-mindedly eats a sandwich she has prepared. Is that a nice, crunchy dill pickle sliced in quarters on the side? Ah, New York… But Guy’s not getting any offers. He doesn’t enjoy his lunch.
Providentially, the neighborly Castavets invite the young couple to a sumptuous dinner at their beautiful home, which happens to be the adjoining apartment. Minnie and Roman have thoughtfully removed all sectarian religious paintings from the walls in order not to disturb their guests. Farrow’s snooping, suspicious character notices this and naturally thinks the worst. (One picture, we discover later, is one of Goya’s so-called black paintings, of some eerie witches. I liked it when I saw it at the Prado. Another depicts St. Patrick’s burning down. I’d like a reproduction, please.) Dinner conversation is somewhat strained, because the Pope is in town and Rosemary, who has no social skills, insists on forcing her own intolerant beliefs on the company. “You don’t have to respect him just because he thinks he’s holy,” says Roman with that wisdom mixed with affectionate tact we remember so fondly of our grandparents. Minnie gushes about sacerdotal jewels. The old couple encourage Guy and say he must be a great actor.
Afterwards, the ladies do the dishes in the kitchen while the menfolk relax in the living room and enjoy a smoke. (They did that back then.) Roman regales the captivated Guy with vivid reminiscences of New York theatrical life in the bygone days of the gilded age. Guy takes a liking to Minnie and Roman and tries to visit them as often as he can; but Rosemary, ever selfish and possessive, tries to obstruct the natural course of the friendship. That night through the walls she hears an eastern-sounding liturgical chant, and the next day Minnie and another neighbor, the down-to-earth, pleasingly plump Laura Louise, stop by and give Rosemary a nice silver pendant on a necklace.
It looks like Guy’s got religion, despite Rosemary’s bloody-minded interference: he scores a big part in a Broadway play. The other actor who was up for the part has suffered a mishap, and it is obvious that the members of the prayer quorum Roman leads have requested a supernatural leg up for their aspiring young neighbor. Isn’t that what prayer and spiritual intervention are all about? The Aramaic phrase might be, Yequm purqan min shemayya, “May salvation arise from Heaven.” It’s not exactly heaven where help has come from in this instance, but can we not admit some religious diversity? Five-pointed upside-down pentacle or six-pointed Magen David, hey, wear the star of your choice. It’s America, after all. Instead of being happy for Guy and appreciative of her neighbors’ inviting sense of community, Rosemary’s just mistrustful, as usual.
Her paranoid misgivings are buttressed by the garrulous Hutch, an elder friend of the Woodhouses’. This incidental character is a cartoonishly pompous Englishman who lives alone. He’s a gossip monger, and refers to NYC landmarks, annoyingly, in the Queen’s English, as though he were a visiting colonial official in a pith helmet. What a pill. Guy, who perhaps suspects, and perhaps rightly, that he is perhaps the object of the foreign bachelor’s possibly pederastic attentions, treats the meddling fool coldly, referring to him as “a professional crèpe hanger”. Beware of perverts! One recalls the educational films of a few years earlier warning school boys of predatory homosexuals. We now know that the ancient Greeks enjoyed such diversions; but all this is happening a year or more before Stonewall. Let’s leave Hutch to his proclivities, for the time being. One is touched by Guy’s reverential affection towards his elderly neighbors, however.
But sex of another sort soon obtrudes, protrudes, and intrudes. In a rather controversial scene, Satan in the form of a hairy tumescent beast comes up from Hell and rogers royally the sedated Rosemary on the evening of a convivial Esbat while the Dakota minyan chant prayers in their ancient infernal liturgical language. We catch only glimpses of the devil, who is servicing Rosemary, disappointingly to my taste, in the unimaginative missionary position. But there is enough to make one wonder whether dense male body hair, avid sexual prowess, residence in a decidedly southerly place, and so on, might be an allusion to a certain Semitic people. Esbat, by the way, is just Shabbat mispronounced. Rosemary duly becomes pregnant and is cared for on a pro bono basis by New York’s premier gynecologist, Dr. Abe Sapirstein, a visibly Jewish character played by Ralph Bellamy. Sapirstein is a member of the congregation, too, and makes sure his patient sticks to a delicious, protein-rich organic drink that Minnie prepares for her every day.
I should add here that Rosemary is unappreciative the morning after. In his novel The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov observes that any woman alive would be delighted to have sex with the Prince of Darkness. That hieros gamoswas supposedly the high point of the festivities on the Brocken. That’s Rosemary over there, the party pooper at the Bacchanal. Steer clear.
Rosemary’s sturdy little demon boy grows healthily in her womb, while her own behavior becomes steadily more erratic. The nosy Hutch suffers a stroke and expires, but not before leaving the credulous Rosemary a stack of defamatory books on witchcraft. The poor addled girl becomes obsessed with these stupid volumes, till thoughtful Guy throws them away. She runs away in a panic and has to be ushered home by Dr. Sapirstein and friends: then she goes straight into labor and he delivers the baby. Isn’t it gratifying that doctors made house calls in those days.
The final scene of this heartwarming movie is touching indeed. The coven have removed the infant from his mother’s custody for his own safety, and he’s goo-goo-ing and ga-ga-ing in the Castavets’ apartment next door. Rosemary, who has become stark raving bonkers by this point, totters into Minnie and Roman’s living room, where Guy is mixing cocktails for well-attired, successful co-religionists from every corner of the globe who have gathered to celebrate the birth of the favored child. Is this an ironic allusion to the Nativity? Naw. Mia Farrow is induced to let go of the bread knife she is brandishing, and is served a cup of the beverage that cheereth but doth not intoxicate. Fortified by Lipton’s Tea, and brought at long last to her senses, Rosemary gingerly approaches the tall black cradle with its upside-down crucifix and dutifully rocks her tiger-eyed spawn. The Japanese guest, who has been smiling and wishing everybody a “Hair Satan!” takes snapshots, and the film concludes on an uplifting note of messianic hope.
What a life-affirming movie! “Rosemary’s Baby” showcases family values and traditional gender roles, while celebrating religious and ethnic diversity and promoting neighborhood and community. It would be suitable for screening in schools, except that Guy says “damn” at one point, so I suppose it has to be rated R since it contains “language”. Admittedly language is a problem. America is now phasing out language, I’m happy to report. The first stage is to make it content-free: for instance, the nation-wide series of carefully orchestrated orgies of arson and mayhem last summer is called “mostly peaceful demonstrations”, while a demonstration at the Capitol a few months later that got out of hand is officially termed by the Seven Fat Cows (vide supra) and their herd an attack on the scale of 9/11, a revolt, an insurrection. Soon we’ll hear that compared to the gaping wound of 6 January 2021, 7 December 1941 was a minor irritation. Stage two will involve the replacement of protective masks with compulsory duct tape over the mouth. No language? No problem!
I hope you enjoyed this exhilarating excursion into the parallel universe of postmodernist claptrap, I mean, criticism. Press thumbs up under the video to “like” the Chronicle of Current Events and don’t forget to subscribe to our channel for more transgressive insights into arts and letters. We’ve got the Bard in our crosshairs. Tolstoyevsky’s the next to go. Good night, Virginia, and… Blessed be!
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