Rosemary's Baby

Paramount Pictures

This 1968 Roman Polanski thriller recalls the auteur's earlier Repulsion—the apartment that becomes a prison, the gradual disintegration of the young woman who inhabits it, even the increasingly unpalatable contents of the refrigerator. Formally speaking, Rosemary's Baby is a gleefully blasphemous parody of the "Life of the Virgin," right down to the denouement's travestied "Adoration of the Magi," in which one of the wise men from the East appears as a Japanese tourist with a Pentax. But this blackest of comedies also bears the imprint of Polanski's nightmarish childhood in Poland amidst the Holocaust: Betrayal awaits at every turn, prying neighbors mean only harm, the normality of the outside world seems the cruelest taunt. The evocation of evil is all the more chilling for its banality: The coven of old dears next door are as devoted to knitting as to the Prince of Darkness. And at the film's heart is Mia Farrow's harrowing transformation from Mary Quant mannequin to a gaunt and suffering specter, as if the movie were haunted by the memory of the director's mother, murdered in Auschwitz. Polanski coaxes a performance of aching vulnerability from Farrow as the not-so-bright bride impregnated by an unholy ghost in hubby's Faustian pact—a character as pure in her simple, dogged saintliness as Bresson's Joan of Arc.

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