cuckoochanel’s review published on Letterboxd:
SHOCKtober Day 17 of 31
MY 100TH REVIEW!!! 🤪🤓🤩
I heavily self-identify through my personal style (as a former fashion school drop-out and lifelong sartorial junkie) so when I encounter films that deftly employ wardrobe on an intentionally psychological level, I am especially attuned to the choices a stylist makes. Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s art-horror triumph that has become a widely acknowledged progenitor of an entire subgenre of novels and motion pictures, is a caustic, disturbing portrait of a young woman dominated and trafficked into satanic sex work by her husband, then subdued, gaslighted and cowed into madness and indentured maternal servitude by her duplicitous groom and a coven of geriatric witches.
The horrors are manifold here: that a naive but seemingly intelligent woman—who is by no means friendless—is cut off from her support system and isolated into a claustrophobic social sphere dictated by her husband, is relegated to the home, is manipulated into depending on imposed, spouse-approved acquaintances, is encouraged to reject doubt, reason, the opinions of ‘outsiders’ and multiple physical indicators of concern, who is sold, continually drugged, completely dehumanized and held captive, even raped, and who is physically, mentally and emotionally exploited by a interminable barrage of nefarious lies and manipulations. Polanski does extraordinary work with creating suspense and a veil of ambiguity over the proceedings—keeping the viewer sympathetic to the titular Rosemary while shrewdly balancing the the possibilities of actual foul play and perceived injuries due to prenatal depression and paranoia. Costume designer Anthea Sylbert denotes the internal psychology by silent, subtle means via the costuming—particularly Rosemary, whose entire wardrobe Sylbert designed herself.
The film is bookended with gorgeous panoramas of 60s Manhattan, denoting a modern setting for this demonic fairy tale, and opens with a lissom Mia Farrow in an all-white sheath dress, her shining, freckle-smattered face framed by a blonde bob with fringe—a young wife, Rosemary Woodhouse with her dashing actor husband, Guy, in tow on an apartment hunt in the Upper West Side. Her ensemble tells us something about her character; white is pure and angelic, also virginal, and the clean lines of her dress and primness with her matching white purse and church gloves indicate an unspoiled virtue and traditional, even Christian values. The viewer can, in hindsight, understand why the coven is so keen to impregnate spotless Rosemary versus the salvaged sex worker and former drug addict-cum-suicide victim Terry; Rosemary would be the Devil’s symbolic perversion and defiance of God—corrupting an unblemished vessel for his abominable spawn.
She and Guy move into a grand, old apartment in the infamous Bramford Building, which has an ominous reputation for witchy tenants and mysterious deaths. Undaunted, Rosemary faithfully plays the role of enthusiastic housewife, painting the walls and populating the rooms with new furnishings and art—as the audience spends time with Rosemary alone in these scenes, there is an emotional manipulation leaning toward the sentimental due to the babydoll dresses she wears—childish florals in yellow and baby blue, peter pan collars atop wide, shape-swallowing silhouettes and minuscule hemlines; empathetic Rosemary is a walking doll in her own playhouse—cute, wholesome, almost sexless as she embodies the adult rendering of infantilized swaddling—and there is an instinctual desire to nurture and protect this projection of guileless femininity.
On the night Rosemary and Guy intend to conceive, Rosemary stages a romantic evening at home, and her outfit breaks rank with her previously girlish ensembles. Here she dons a blood red, flowing chiffon trouser suit—a color symbolizing Rosemary’s sexuality and seizing of a new part of her identity. The choice of pants signals her imbedded desire to be seen as mature and Guy’s marital equal, while the overall shapeless quality of the garment serves to highlight her angelic fragility (despite her assertive desires). The saturated crimson also forecasts her satanic rendezvous which will result in a gestating antichrist. Even in pants, though, which traditionally signal authority, Rosemary cannot command respect or dignity, and she is drugged by the insidious coven and sacrificed by her husband to the Devil incarnate to be unconsciously raped and inseminated.
When she awakes the next morning, naked and covered in scratches, Guy half-indicts Rosemary and his intoxication for the blame he assumes for the demonic assault. Her sexy, assured garment is gone—the garment of love, desire, hopeful mutual respect and womanly maturity—and she is emotionally and physically bare. Ironically, Rosemary first vocalizes genuine displeasure with Guy and their life in this moment of strength in unclothed vulnerability. When her pregnancy is confirmed, however, she reverts back to her childlike wardrobe, assuming the role of homemaker and acquiescent wife.
Her pregnancy is almost immediately plagued with pain and strange cravings, supplemented with a daily regimen of her pushy surrogate-godmother’s herbal smoothies and a generally housebound existence. She’s systematically detached from her acquaintanceship as the term progresses and she becomes increasingly more sickly. The brutal winter months seem to correlate with her coldest moments of isolation, and her somber-colored, fashionably short winter coat bundles her skeletal, ravaged frame while exposing her spindly legs. When her due date approaches, hellish temperatures increase to 90-100 degrees, with a sweltering Rosemary ready to pass out even in her thin, pale play dresses. Rosemary’s hemlines rise deliberately during the film in tandem with her vain attempts to assert independence from her coterie of blue-haired enemies and her husband’s increasingly militant control, exposing her vulnerability as she is entangled deeper into their web of deceit and her own body-consuming possessive pregnancy. The reveal of her “Vidal Sassoon” pixie haircut is her most blatant act of rebellion, and one that is met with unconcealed disapproval and mockery from her husband.
Rosemary’s iconic pale blue, floral-appliquéd housecoat and white floor-length nightgown that she premiers at the satanic baby shower for her Luciferian progeny is a modern-day reimagining of the Catholic depiction of the Virgin Mary, and is a picture of cozy domesticity and non-threatening maternity—despite her wielding a large kitchen knife amid a throng of her abusers. The sweetness of her dressing gown mimics her perceived threat level; she is met with utter indifference as she discovers the true identity and motives of those around her and is, in fact, further kneaded into assuming her motherly duties to Beelzebub’s cloven-hoofed newborn.
The omission of occult garb within the film (even during the phantasmagorical rape sequence) lends an air of the enigmatic to the events—especially when the coven leaders, Roman and Minnie Castavet, are earnest, friendly senior citizens who have a colorful and eccentric personal style. When the Woodhouses meet the Castavets at the unfortunate scene of Terry’s suicidal leap, the Castavets’ appearance could be the promotional poster for a Kentucky Derby. Minnie, the majestic Ruth Gordon in a career-defining role as the garrulous matron saint of diabolic breeding, is bedizened in a psychedelic confection, white plume-festooned hat and a week’s worth of rouge, while her counterpart, Roman (Sidney Blackmer as the renamed Marcato heir and patriarch of the fiendish witch syndicate) is nattily attired in a pink seersucker blazer, red pants with matching bowtie, and a trilby hat banded in pink satin. Color and pattern play important roles in the depiction of our villains, because when the aging Castevets wear convivial, exuberant fashions, the viewer may anticipate them being quirky, but certainly not suspicious, depraved, injurious or evil. John Cassavetes, the supremely wicked narcissist Guy Woodhouse, is styled as the modern man in the early 60s—confident, dressed in slim-cut suits and fashionable sweaters, effortlessly dapper with a charming ease—which also positions him as the authority in the home and the obvious adult compared to Rosemary’s immature fashion choices (which signals that she needs constant supervision and undermines her autonomy). The orchestration of wardrobe with the direction of this horror classic is a symphonic achievement that examines psychology, control and terror in a complex and exacting composition that will continue to develop far beyond this rewatch.