Rosemary’s Husband

by Ted on May 2, 2005

I watched Rosemary’s Baby over the weekend. I don’t know who I’m typing SPOILER ALERT for, but I don’t want to hear any whining.

The movie largely limits itself to Rosemary’s point of view. We see only what she sees, and we only learn when she does that her baby did not die, but is in fact the living spawn of Satan. It’s a perfectly logical way to structure the narrative, but I think that it robs us of the most interesting story. What was her husband Guy thinking this whole time? I can imagine how he jusitified himself. He would have said, well, I’m not a Satanist, after all. But I am the breadwinner for this family, and it is awfully hard to make it as an actor without a few breaks. Rosemary will go through a pregnancy and will think that she lost the child. It’s terribly sad, but it’s happened to many people. We can have more children together, and with my new success, we’ll have a better life, and our family will be so much better off in the long run. (Since he can see with his own eyes that Satan and witches are real, it’s a little harder to fathom why he ignored the probable long-term costs of bring Satan’s spawn into the world, but I’ll let it slip.)

But to pull this off, he has to treat his wife loathesomely. It’s not just the big things- drugging his wife, letting her be raped by the devil, and convincing his wife that their baby died. That’s appalling behavior, but he knew that he was in for it when he made the deal with the Satanists.

It’s the little things. For the charade to work, he has to act like a jerk, over and over again. He has to make a big deal about the fact that she doesn’t like the drugged chocolate mousse; she can taste something off, and he has to insist that she finishes it. He has to pretend that he had sex with her while she was passed out. He has to insist, against all common sense, that she cannot see another doctor when her own obstetrician does nothing for her constant pain. (He’s reduced to arguing that “it wouldn’t be fair to Dr. Saperstein”.) He has to throw out the book that their mutual friend sent Rosemary before he died. He has to insist that they spend all their time with the weird elderly members of the coven, shutting out their old friends. And when Rosemary becomes convinced that their neighbors are witches, he has to convice her that she’s going crazy. Under the strain of the lie, he never gets to relax and enjoy his wife.

As Guy, John Cassavetes begins as an ambitious good-time-Charlie, self-centered but clearly in love, and devolves into a haunted, guilty creep. He has to spend his entire home life acting. And he clearly resents her for it. He can’t let down the charade for nine months. He’s nervous and distant. He insults her haircut and her friends. And when Rosemary finds out the truth at the end of the movie, I thought that he knew perfectly well that he had done an unforgivable thing; he seemed to be positively crawling with guilt.

Rosemary’s Baby is not such a classic that it demands the The Wind Done Gone treatment. But still, I think that it buried the lede.



alkali 05.02.05 at 5:43 pm

IIRC, the film is driven by the tension over the question of whether Rosemary’s POV is reliable (is she just crazy?). If you showed her husband’s POV it would resolve the question.


Chris Martin 05.02.05 at 6:45 pm

One of the most original bumper stickers I’ve seen uses the font of the “Baby on Board” stickers but it says “Rosemary’s Baby on Board.”

Anyway Ira Levin wrote a sequel called Son of Rosemary in which Rosemary wakes up from a 30-year coma into which she was cast after the baby’s birth. Rip van Winkle anyone?


Randy Paul 05.02.05 at 6:48 pm

I wonder if the Christian rigth pro-lifers would have wanted Rosemary to have an abortion if they knew she was carrying the spawn of ……….SATAN!


Walt Pohl 05.02.05 at 7:24 pm

Randy: I’ve heard that this comes up in the “Left Behind” books, and the verdict is not to get an abortion even then.


Anderson 05.02.05 at 8:08 pm

Randy: I’ve heard that this comes up in the “Left Behind” books, and the verdict is not to get an abortion even then.

So, do you just exercise your Second Amendment rights & blow that baby away the moment it’s delivered? Sounds plausible.

“It’s not a choice, it’s a DEMON.”


Rented Mule 05.02.05 at 9:31 pm

You would lose one of the all-time great shots. Minnie Castevet has Rosemary help her with the dishes, presumably so that Roman Catevet can proposition Guy Woodhouse. Curious, Rosemary looks into the living room, but all she can see is the smoke rising from a cigarette.

Watching this scene, I’ve always wondered: what did Roman have to do to convince Guy that he was for real, and not a nut? He does *something* — when Rosemary comes out, her husband has this look on his face somewhere between rapt and shocked.

More generally, it seems to me that Guy’s story does get told to us — only it gets told to us through a series of absences. The movie invites the very kind of speculations that you’ve elaborated in your post.

The book is fucking great, too.


Steve Burton 05.02.05 at 9:50 pm

Guy’s situation is relatively morally complex. But so what? Moral complexity does not equal dramatic effectiveness. *Rosemary’s Baby* from Guy’s point of view would be long forgotten by now.


Ray Davis 05.02.05 at 9:54 pm

Ted, you’re writing like a dope, but I’m glad you paid attention while it lasted. Rosemary’s Baby is Polanski’s best movie and one of the few really good movies to come out of high-budget Hollywood in the 1960s because it buried “the lede”. We all know the fucking lede. The tragic self-loathing male was always the headline. That’s why it was so easy for you (and everyone else) to fill in Cassavetes’s gaps. And if you think any of Guy’s actions defies credibility or conscience you haven’t met many ’60s guys.

For whatever combination of peculiarities, in this one case Levin and Polanski together managed to overcome (somewhat) their deservedly self-loathing narcissism by going past pure Repulsion-style emotionally sadomasochistic fantasy (still better than the Darling norm) into woman’s horror picture. And, as Goethe wrote, the woman’s horror picture draws us ever onward.


quisp 05.02.05 at 10:06 pm

The reason he does what he does — and all the explanation that is necessary — is that he is an actor. He’s narcissistic and evil. The Satanists in the movie aren’t as bad as he is. They are just doing their part to bring satan’s spawn into the world.

i.e. Guy is the villain.

And you’re wrong. It’s a classic.


Ted 05.02.05 at 10:49 pm

Now that’s interesting. I agree that it wouldn’t be easy to tell the story except from Rosemary’s perspective, and I’m probably overstating my case about the viability of telling it otherwise. But the idea that it’s actually a better movie because of it- that I wouldn’t have thought of. Tell me more, if you like.

Rented Mule, good point about Roman’s presumed proof. You’ve got me wondering, too.


Keith M Ellis 05.02.05 at 11:02 pm

“And, as Goethe wrote, the woman’s horror picture draws us ever onward.”

The horror that I suspect that most men don’t really clue into is the horror that many/most/all pregnant women at least subconsciously entertain that there’s some alien, awful, unwanted creature growing inside her. In that context, the movie’s subtext is pro-abortion in a pre RvW context. (Please don’t mercilessly pummel me if this is an excruciatingly obvious reading of the film.) Male viewers are more likely, I bet, to take the film very literally, as you have.

Which brings to mind an interesting narrative experiment: attempt to bring this horror to male sensibilities. I’m not sure how to do that because you’d want to somehow combine the idea of the complete normality—indeed, the supposed primary “natural” function—represented in pregnancy with the horror of, say, cancer or an Alien-style incubation. There’s got to be some portion of the male sense of “self” that could be thusly both simulataneously praised and deeply alienated. Maybe involving male sexuality, the penetrative act? I dunno.

Rosemary’s Baby as a moral melodrama from the husband’s point-of-view would be best realized as something quite other than horror. Or perhaps horror disgusied as comedy.


Bernie Nicholls 05.03.05 at 12:23 am

Your depiction of Guy “as an ambitious good-time-Charlie, self-centered but clearly in love, and devolves into a haunted, guilty creep” is interesting and reminds me of the debate among criminal law theorists concerning entrapment. Some argue that entrapment shouldn’t be a defense because such traps aren’t creating any predilections, but rather merely nurturing/encouraging what already exists. However, others counter, saying that with all criminal law, we have to afford people their own moral luck; that is, people deserve the fact that, even if they might be susceptible to criminal behavior if sufficiently tempted, such temptation hasn’t really come to pass, but was actually artificial. Likewise, although Guy may have actually been an average Joe in love with his wife, he did have a great deal of ambition. Some read Macbeth as showing precisely how someone, previously honorable and true, can become a monster. Here, Guy is in a precarious position: He’s right in between success and what is the most common result of a career in acting, failure. Right there on the cusp of breaking through, he’s even more ambitious than if he had been a complete up until then. So, I would say that it is not a big stretch to believe that someone in Guy’s position could transform (regress?) so quickly and completely. My guess is this: Speaking with Roman in the den, Guy was impressed perhaps with some type of inside information Roman knew about him or something that an average person would have no access to. Roman then proposed a deal with a precise outcome in favor for Guy, and then some vague “You have to help us with our ritual. Convince Rosemary that it’s for the best, or if you think it’d be better not to tell her at all, we can give her something to make her sleep.” So once Roman delivered on his end of the deal, Guy was so estatic with the result (and considering the value of what Roman did for him) that Guy has trapped in a vague pact, one which he didn’t how long would obligate him. Plus, once you find out that your neighbor has the power to blind someone with as little as a personal possession, would you renege?
So, I see the regression of Guy as a slow, step-by-step process where he was eventually sucked into it. After all, he’s never happy about participating in any of the actual devil business; for the entire second half of the movie, he’s always antsy or irritated.


B. K. M. 05.03.05 at 3:05 am

All due respect to the erudite and cinematically condite Ray Davis, but Chinatown wasn’t too bad.


Ray Davis 05.03.05 at 7:18 am

Rosemary’s Baby is already a revisionist reading. Revising it back again would turn it reactionary.

Shallow selfish abusive men do exist, and their ineffectual fits of sentimentality aren’t as admirable as you’d imagine. Faust isn’t necessarily an admirable, or even tragic, figure. But it’s hard to keep him from becoming one if he’s made the story’s protagonist. The star treatment is always flattering. As evidence, I’d say you unduly flatter Guy while just imagining him in the lead.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised at encountering a certain amount of expectation that he should be in the lead. That story’s been told so often that it probably feels perverse (or worse, dull) to refuse it. What gives Rosemary’s Baby its power, though, is its refusal to let this become Guy’s story and its insistence that Rosemary stay the center of interest.

Not to overstate Levin/Polanski as proto-feminists, though. Marguerite is a problematic character, to say the least. Or the most — there’s not much to her. Unlike the female protagonists of Cat People or Repulsion, Rosemary doesn’t get a chance to strike back; unlike Alicia in Notorious, she’s not maintaining a betrayal of her own. She’s such a victim it’s hard to imagine anyone other than creep-magnet Mia Farrow playing the role. (Polanski’s original casting choice — Tuesday Weld and Robert Redford — is intriguing, but I think it would have been a different sort of movie.)

Keith, the pro-abortion (or at least anti-miracle-of-childbirth) tone seemed pretty clear to me, but it’s hardly the first thing most Amazon DVD reviewers mention. As for “horror disguised as comedy”, there is, actually, quite a bit of humor to Rosemary’s Baby. Nasty sadistic humor, but it adds interest to the victimizing.

Since for millennia women have been beaten to a pulp by the pedestal they’re raised on, it’s hard to think of a male equivalent in horror. For starters, the blank isolation of a male “Rosemary” would probably have to be portrayed as self-inflicted. Maybe in a war movie, or in the determined unlovability of Ray’s Bigger Than Life or Romero’s Martin or Cronenberg’s The Fly….?


Dan Kervick 05.03.05 at 8:08 am


How could a film that is built around the creation of an atmosphere of confusion, isolation, sickness, paranoia and nightmare, reflecting the subjective point of view of Rosemary, and her own dim understanding of the things that are happening to her, have been improved by the addition of mood-deflating glimpses into the reality of her husband’s world.

Like other horror movies, Rosemary’s Baby works by constructing extraordinary events out the anxieties of ordinary life-experiences – in this case, the experience of being a young, pregnant woman in Manhattan, in a more-or-less conventional marriage, circa the mid-sixties. Rosemary undergoes the transition from lover/friend to wife/mother, and experinces many of the things that go along with that transition: she loses touch with her younger, more vivacious friends; she in initiated into the new world of fathers, mothers and “old wives”; she loses freedom and autonomy as her husband increasingly arranges her ever more lonely life for her; her doctor changes; her husband’s career interests take increasing precedence over her own desires, and she begins to socialize more with her husband’s “colleagues” as he climbs the ladder of success; she is sick all the time and nobody seems to care greatly; and her worries and anxieties are treated as her problem, and one that must be managed; she is infantilized and everybody is “in on it”.


John Isbell 05.03.05 at 8:45 am

Odd that no women have commented here.


Lisa Williams 05.03.05 at 11:32 am

But what is the *guy* thinking? In fact, The Guy?
That’s what virtually every other movie on the planet is about. Let’s leave this one be. Just for fun. (After all, we’ve already got Faust).

But to take your question on its merits: would a film about Guy’s moral choices be riveting? Probably not: the whole point is that it’s just another career opportunity; in the world of Rosemary’s baby, Guy is, in fact, normal and boring. The justifications would be as boring as those canned conversations between people about why or why not to buy an SUV.


jlw 05.03.05 at 11:37 am

Make Guy’s point of view more central? Why on Earth? To crib from Jim Henley, the audiences were soaking in it.

Look at mid-Sixties America: Husbands were readily sacrificing their wives and children for their own ambition. Relocate for a new job? No problem. Leave the wife alone at home so one can participate in the Rotary/Elks/Masons? You betcha. Asuage the stress no one yet had a word for by crawling into a bottle and getting rough with the honey? Pour me that damn drink! And that’s not even getting into the broader social sacrifices being asked for–up to including one’s own children–by the Daddies running the Cold War.

Nah. You want Guy’s point of view? Leave the theater, walk down the street, enter any house in Anytown, USA, circa 1966. Like all great fantasies, Rosemary’s Baby works best as a critique on the existing social order that can’t be made in a “straight” work of art. Move the spotlight away from Rosemary’s naive outside perspective and you wind up with a pretty pointless movie.


jlw 05.03.05 at 11:39 am

And I see that Lisa beat me to the punch. Pithier, too.


Keith M Ellis 05.03.05 at 12:37 pm

Let’s not pillory Ted here as an anti-feminist or anything. Even implicitly, which I think some are doing. His point is best read as a more general one: oftentimes secondary characters in fiction are not given the attention they deserve and when their motives are examined, they’re baffling. In broad strokes, yes, the husband’s motives are comprehensible, especially if he’s seen to represent the patriarchy, as lisa and jlw assert above. Even so, I’d find such behavior by a *real* person fairly baffling and unlikely.

Of course, it’s such a modernism to require that every novel (and film) be a reductive psychological examination. Hmm, I’ve never articulated this in this way before, but I think that this presumed psychological comprehensibility of fictional characters is as fanciful and false and the things that we today read as violations of verisimilitude in pre-modern fiction. In contrast to this, one of the things I most love about Tolstoy is that his characters have an almost modern inner-life, psychologically rich yet are not windup deterministic psychic robots launched into motion by a few precious and tiresomely predictable motivations.

Maybe Guy has no clue as to why he makes the decisions he makes, and maybe no one else has any hope to make much sense of them, either.


James 05.03.05 at 1:43 pm

“Which brings to mind an interesting narrative experiment: attempt to bring this horror to male sensibilities.”


I think one can interpret David Lynch’s Eraserhead in precisely this way.

(of course that’s one of many possible interpretations!)


Alan Bostick 05.03.05 at 5:33 pm

A version of Rosemary’s Baby told from Guy’s point of view would be about as appealing as a version of Jane Eyre told from Mr. Rochester’s point of view, or Rebecca from Maxim de Winter’s point of view.

I strongly commend to you, Ted, that you read Joanna Russ’s essay, “Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me and I Think It’s My Husband: The Modern Gothic” by Joanna Russ. (It can be found in Russ’s essay collection To Write Like a Woman)


Randy Paul 05.03.05 at 6:36 pm

What b.k.m. said about Chinatown – Not to mention Cul de Sac.


textualist 05.04.05 at 2:57 pm

I demand more movie posts.


boots 05.04.05 at 5:30 pm

A. Bostick-
Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea is Mrs. Rochester’s narrative, right up to the burning attic.
Which is sort of to say the gender dichotomy isn’t the only, or even possibly the major, division amongst protagonists and p.o.v.’s.


mjones 05.05.05 at 6:17 am

Apart from anything else, Guy is boring and unpleasant. The thought of being trapped with him for two hours would be the real horror. Lovecraft does Updike. Ugh.


Mike 05.06.05 at 11:44 pm

All hail Polanski!

After taking the requisite filmmaking courses at Temple U, I experienced my epiphany watching “Rear Window” in a ‘How to Read a Film’ english course. It was locked away in litigation at the time, and we lucked out when our film librarian procured a hot 16mm print. I saw the Lord — Hitch at his peak primadonna powers, telling everybody to line up and kiss his arse. Life changin’ stuff. Come to find out a little later that somebody ratted on Sam the resourceful librarian and he got canned for revealing The Secret to a grateful few. Lesson: Don’t Postpone Joy.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m a shameless RP admirer. I’ll argue that “The Pianist” is a better film than “Schindler’s List” and probably get pelted with ‘maters. No worries, I like a good debate. But, really — what the hell? “Rosemary’s Baby” is just masterful on so many levels that I have to chuck me a Dakota load of stinky tomatoes at you. David Lynch? He DREAMS at night of creeping out Frank Sinatra with his movies. Come on! Let’s resist the jaded po-mo crap. Who volunteers to carry Roman’s jock?

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