Ever since Kanye West named Kim Kardashian as his baby momma at a recent concert, setting ablaze both the celebrity and real worlds with fires of gossip as juicy as Kim’s famed ass, I’ve been thinking a lot of about motherhood, reproduction, and the sexual politics of the female body (pregnant or not pregnant) – particularly the notion of who *exactly* a pregnant body (particularly a celebrity body) belongs to in a society that continuously appears to be valuing the concept of privacy less and less.
For example, how many of us see a pregnant woman in a grocery store and think nothing of going up to her and asking horribly awkward questions such as, “wow, you’re so big. Are you having twins?” or worse, patting her tummy, like it’s some kind of fertility talisman encounter. But, shit, if pregnant women’s bodies have to power to infect other women with unseen forces of reproduction, I better keep my girlfriend away from any pregnant woman in the tri-state area. There’s only one Pappa Fraud and that was my own father.
Given Kim’s high profile and questionably accidental pregnancy (how many of us are thinking elaborate publicity stunt, seriously?), my cinematic tastes have been veering off into films that reflect this double helix of paranoia and privacy as it surrounds the female body during pregnancy. I’ve watch several films in the past week that illustrate such a concept well, but I believe there is no better exercise in this than Roman Polanski’s 1968 masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby.
The most recent poster for the film
Based on Ira Levin’s book of the same title, the now canonical horror (or psychological thriller, if you’d prefer) film tells the story of a young wife who believes her extremely good looking and semi-charming actor husband has sold the rights to her uterus to Satan in exchange for career success. No one involved in this deal thinks that Rosemary, who has to carry around a devil fetus for nine months attached to her own body, will suspect a thing, despite the fact that she obviously does suspect…well, everything. In fact, Rosemary starts to think things are a bit off the day after conception when she wakes up with scratches covering her back and recollecting a nightmare where she was being raped by an otherworldly creature. Guy (the dumb husband) tells her that he couldn’t wait for “baby night” and that he only then noticed his nails were too long. At this point in the narrative, even if Satan wasn’t called up from hell to reproduce using the body of Mia Farrow’s Rosemary, we are suspect of Guy’s actions and him in general. In more modern gender and sexuality theory, the fact that Guy essentially admits to raping his wife while she is out cold would not fly at all. I mean, even those second wave feminists I talked about a few months back called a foul on that one, even if laws were not on the books yet to say what he actually did was rape her because she was his wife and they were trying to conceive.
Either way, two weeks post-rape Rosemary joyfully hears the news that she is pregnant and all seems to be well within her lonely housewife life – that is, until she starts craving raw meat and losing weight because her spawn is sucking her body dry. Throughout these early moments in the narrative, Polanski masterfully crafts Rosemary’s isolation, loneliness, naiveté, and innocence. To me there is no better illustration of this than in a very early scene where Rosemary and Guy have moved in their new apartment and are eating a picnic-like dinner on the living room floor, upon which Rosemary softly says, “Hey, let’s make love,” and Guy hastily turns off the sole floor lamp next to them and they awkwardly undress themselves before having sex off camera. Polanski’s inclusion of such a scene not only shows Rosemary’s still developing erotic desires as well as a sort of lack of sexual chemistry and communication between the pair. Sex between them never occurs organically in the film; they are always drunk, passed out, or just not having it. There is no happy prologue to the film’s reverse narrative of hetero romance and reproduction, things have always been fucked, and now it’s only getting worse given that Guy’s ego is so blown that he has to resort to supernatural means to enhance his career.
If I was going to give a Freudian critique of this film in the manner I would for my other job, I’d say that Guy’s lagging career is representative of his failed masculinity and sexual prowess, but for now I’ll spare you all. I think you guys get where I’m going here. Heterosexuality is traumatic and isolating in this film and we don’t even get the usual horror film “state of bliss” at the film’s beginning because Polanski, being a man after my own heart, doesn’t roll that way, he’s always committed to crafting a gritty and complex story on screen. Polanski sets us in motion from the film’s first moments of haunting soundtrack and wide expansive shots of the New York City skyline for an experience that will not allow us any comfort at all. Like Rosemary and her increasing paranoia and suspicion to her surroundings, the viewer becomes keenly aware of moments within the film where things just never seem to add up properly: Rosemary gets pregnant the first night “they” attempt to conceive, Guy gets an amazing acting job quickly, and their new building sees a suicide within the first weeks they are there. Similarly, once her pregnancy progresses and she cuts her hair into the pixie cut that made her a style icon, Farrow’s Rosemary looks younger than ever. She looks the part of more child than woman, leading to an effect of discomfort for the remainder of the film. Children do not get pregnant and Rosemary looks like a little girl. She is very slender, blonde, and has rosy cheeks. This bothers me every time I watch the film. A lot. How can we view the character as someone who is reproductively viable when she looks like someone who is incapable of that very function? And furthermore, why are we so concerned with her pregnant body anyway?
To me, the brilliance of the film is Polanski’s direction of Farrow and his framing of what in many ways could be framed as a normal and uneventful pregnancy into something defined by terror, unease, and fear – but how many women are now admitting in women’s magazines or books that pregnancy isn’t easy or as neat as their mothers and grandmothers would have had them to originally believe? No one told them about the pains, aches, and alienation for their sexualities or bodies they would feel once they entered the later months of their pregnancy. No one told them that pre-pregnancy life was completely gone and that they would have to deal with a complex “new normal,” both mentally and physically.
Polanski directs Farrow
Even though Polanski clearly is telling a horror story about the powers of good and evil, he’s also giving us a commentary on modern motherhood, pregnancy, and the female body. Rosemary’s pregnant body really never belongs to herself, much like many pregnant bodies do not belong to the very women who inhabit them. We feel we can tell certain women to terminate, give their babies up for adoption, or parent. We tell teens not to get pregnant and scare them away from sexuality entirely to the point where sex becomes something about pain or fear than ecstasy. We tell ourselves that it’s okay to touch a stranger’s torso just by the very virtue they are carrying a future member of the world.
Given this, Rosemary’s Baby then becomes a powerful (and early) exercise in gender and sexual paranoia. Produced before the heyday of second wave feminism, Polanski asks us to consider who pregnant bodies actually belong to in our own world, and that’s a huge deal. Yeah, it takes two to tango and make a baby, but what about the person whose body is carrying it? That’s a huge question that feminists are still considering and obviously has a lot to deal with a ton of women’s health issues. In the end [SPOILER] Rosemary ends up essentially agreeing to raise her half demon baby after she sees it, but we get the idea things aren’t the happiest. Reproduction is a double helix indeed. Rosemary is trapped by her identity as a mother, but we can’t forget she was a woman first. This is where the film leaves us, with this question of the maternal body and what motherhood actually means. Plus, isn’t paranoia something we all deal with in our daily lives? Polanski never answers these questions, but I like that about the film. It keeps us guessing and due to this it never becomes outdated, which is rare for a lot of films about gender and sexuality. Bravo.
A paranoid Farrow in her famous haircut
Now, going back to the Kimye spawn: whose baby are we as a society going to let this be? Will it be solely in Kim’s private life (yeah, right)? Or will her pregnant body announce itself on the world in a way that we cannot ignore through maternity clothing lines and special episodes of her show? Will this baby become a brand ambassador for Kanye’s music? Will it be a poster child for the beauty of interracial infants? Probably a combination of all of these, but one thing’s for sure: when you see her at that Whole Foods in LA her bodyguard isn’t going to let you close enough to her for you to get your hands on that million dollar baby bump, so you’ll have to set your sights on a slightly less famous talisman for your reproductive hopes. Don’t worry, I’m sure the cast of 16 and Pregnant will be more than happy to help.
Kim and Kanye are all smiles
So, Dear Readers, do we have any other lovers of Rosemary’s Baby out there? I’ll go as far as saying it’s more scary than The Exorcist. Do you any of you agree?