There are many ways to abuse someone: physically, sexually, verbally, financially, and psychologically. But one means of abuse which is rarely spoken of but which entails all of the aforementioned is reproductive abuse. Reproductive abuse or coercion is an attempt to abuse, control, coerce, manipulate, or threaten a partner into an unwanted or unintended pregnancy, and/or control that person’s access to appropriate medical care and support. In Rosemary’s Baby, the thriller based on the best-selling novel by Ira Levin, we meet Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) and her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), a young, happy, newlywed couple who are searching for their first apartment together. What should have been one of the most euphoric times of their lives soon turns sinister when the Woodhouses rent an apartment in a old building with mysterious residents and a checkered past.
When Rosemary and Guy meet their neighbours, Minnie and Roman (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), an older couple who take a liking to them, they imagine that things will be smooth sailing at their new residence, but once Guy, a struggling actor, lands a role under strange circumstances, and he and Rosemary decide to have a baby, the cracks in the foundation of their new home are revealed. Though Rosemary and Guy decided to have a baby together, Guy sells Rosemary out to a group of Satanists and allows his wife to be drugged and raped. She did not consent to sex, let alone unprotected sex, with anyone besides him, and Rosemary’s reaction to waking up scratched and bruised following the rape, with only a “dreamlike” memory of what transpired the night before, is sadly symptomatic of patriarchy. Assuming that her own husband was the one who had taken advantage of her the night before, Rosemary lets the situation go.
Later, as Rosemary’s pregnancy progresses, her husband and neighbours intimidate her into going to the gynecologist that they want her to, rather than the one whom she originally intended to see, and gaslighting her very real concerns about her health, increased pain, weight loss, and strange cravings throughout her pregnancy. The most terrifying aspects of Rosemary’s Baby aren’t the occult and witchcraft. It’s the manipulation of a vulnerable young woman, the isolation and threats against a pregnant woman, and the complete loss of autonomy that the title character experiences as her body is used as a breeding machine to fulfill the agendas of others.
Rosemary’s Baby is scary because, supernatural elements aside, this sort of abuse is one which many women all over the world have experienced in varying degrees. Women in partnerships with men shouldn’t assume that they will lose their voice, their choice, and their autonomy, but this happens so often that a man’s “right” to rape his wife, to tamper with her birth control, or to decide unilaterally when they will be having children is one which is rarely questioned. The sexual, reproductive and psychological abuse endured by our protagonist in Rosemary’s Baby is far too real to ever be anything but terrifying.
I give this one 4.5 stars.