Updated: Sep 23
Leila Sebastian (COL '24) looks at horror classic Rosemary's Baby and relates it to the real-life horror of the Supreme Court's overturn of Roe v. Wade.
With the recent SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, our country is starting to resemble a dystopian society where men have complete power over the bodies of women. This court’s brutal reversal of a settled precedent that allowed women control over their bodies evokes the 1968 cult horror classic, Rosemary’s Baby. The film is based on the book by Ira Levin and directed by the now-disgraced Roman Polanski. (See note below.)
Quick plot summary – Rosemary (played by the popular actor, Mia Farrow) becomes pregnant with Satan’s child after being drugged and raped by him, an assault facilitated by his worshippers and her husband. Her entire pregnancy is then taken over by her husband and their Satanic neighbors.
There are many possible readings of the film, but I’d like to focus on the idea that a state and culture that attempts absolute control over women’s bodies and their reproduction is inherently evil. The people that forced this pregnancy onto Rosemary literally worshiped Satan. Most of the men in this film were aligned with Satan. And as part of their commitment, they offered a woman's body to be violated and used as an incubator. To these people, Rosemary’s only worth came from her ability to birth a child.
The United States Supreme Court has made this fictional horror a reality with its recent decision on Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Conservatives on the court decided that the worth of a woman, in fact any person with a uterus, is derived solely from being able to reproduce, and that anyone who does not want to choose motherhood is not sane enough to make a choice about her own body and life. This is not a pro-life belief system; it is anti-choice. The people against a woman’s right to have an abortion are the same people who hinder the implementation of universal childcare and healthcare. Pro-life means ensuring that people who do not want to have children can choose not to do so with safe and accessible contraceptives and abortions. It also means ensuring that people who do want to have children have the ability to raise their children “with dignity in safe, healthy, and supportive environments,” in the words of Dorothy Roberts.
Anti-choice Republicans want to force people to have children (read that again) and then continue their support of violent institutions that participate in the oppression of marginalized communities. Rosemary was assaulted and forced to have a child by people she didn’t know. Women and others with uteruses in this nation can now relate to her experience. If we were living in the film’s reality, Justices Thomas (an alleged sexual predator), Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh (also an alleged sexual predator), and Coney Barrett (a disgrace to women, frankly) would all be Satanists. While of course this is extreme language, I don’t disagree that this ruling is cruel and evil.
Rosemary’s Baby, in spite of its critique of patriarchy, is still problematic. For example, Rosemary is a white woman and while white women, especially working-class white women, have experienced a lack of autonomy surrounding their own bodies that continues to exist, Rosemary’s experience in the film is much realer for women of color, whose reproduction has been commodified and controlled to a much greater and more violent extent, a commodification that finds its roots in slavery. For the film to leave this fact unaddressed contributes to the erasure of the struggles of women of color, specifically as it relates to reproductive justice, and supports a pro-choice, white feminist ideology that does not concern itself with intersectional oppression.
Note: Trigger warnings: sexual assault
Roman Polanski directed this film. He has been convicted of sexual assault. Although this film does act as a commentary on women’s bodily autonomy, it is certainly up to you as the potential viewer, to decide whether or not you find it possible to separate Polanski’s criminal actions from his professional work on this film.
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