Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reimagining The End: Rosemary's Baby

I'm starting what I hope will be a semi-regular ongoing series on this here interwebs blog. I want to examine some of the more popular horror films and discuss what some feel are their weak or particularly bad endings. And in my examination, I will either propose more fitting ones or seek to explain why the ending already given to us is the only plausible one. Are you on board? This should be fun.

I want to begin by writing about a film considered by many genre fans to be a classic: Rosemary's Baby. Back when I was first getting into cinema, and my father was a considerable influence, he told me of the film and how its slow burn suspense and creeping paranoia is one of the greatest examples of minimalistic filmmaking. Even though he considered it a classic, he told me about one Mr. Ray Bradbury, popular science fiction novelist and man who had (or I guess has since he is still alive) a bone to pick with the film. More on Ray's passionate idea in a minute.

Just so that we have some proper context, a brief synopsis is needed. Rosemary and Guy are a young couple who move into an old gothic apartment building in Manhattan. Included free of charge is a dark and troublesome past that is associated with the building. Guy is a fledgling actor and Rosemary is his eager counterpart, wanting to please and support him in any way possible at the expense of her own happiness. Despite her severe loneliness (as Guy is gone for lengths at a time trying to find work), she tries to maintain a level of calm as she knows she needs to be understanding.

To combat her loneliness, Guy states that he wants to become a father and that they should try starting a family. Around the same time that this decision is made, the couple makes friends with an elderly pair in the complex. Rosemary becomes worrisome when the wife pulls Guy aside and insists on talking to him in private. Much more concerning and terrifying is a dream that Rosemary has in which a dark creature has his way with her. Is it all real or just some awful dream? Rosemary soon finds out that she's pregnant and her soon-to-be motherhood eventually becomes a source of angst and paranoia. Coupled with her husband's new found success and their neighbor's extreme interest in the unborn child, Rosemary becomes even more anxiety ridden. But ultimately, when the nefarious intentions of all who are involved are revealed, she instinctively takes up that which she thinks she is supposed to do.

While Polanski's story is clearly about the fears of impending childbirth (being knocked up by the man downstairs notwithstanding), I always found the end to be flawed. Why would Rosemary, after all of the betrayal committed by those around her, succumb to their desire and raise the baby per their wishes? Granted, motherly instincts took over but wouldn't a mother's protective instinct have won out even moreso?

Enter novelist Ray Bradbury and a particularly impassioned speech he gave at an adult education series that was sponsored by the Santa Barbara City College in 1982. He had viewed the film and was fine up until the ending. After discussing similar gripes, he goes on to tell how he would have ended the film in a much more compelling way. He states:

"My ending is, My God, if your child has been condemned by all of these terrible people, and your child is a child of Lucifer, you've got to save him; you've got to get him out of there. You hold off all of these people with a knife and grab your child and run to the nearest elevator and down into the streets of Manhattan. You search for refuge somewhere and come to a lightly falling rain-not too much lightening or too much thunder, let's keep it subtle.

And you come to a synagogue, or a Catholic cathedral, and run into any one of them and take your child up to the altar and hold your child up in the light and say, 'God, Lord God, take back your son!' 

And you've got an ending for your film. 

You pull the camera away, because Lucifer was the son of God, huh? Lucifer lived in heaven. Have you forgotten that? Because of a monstrous act of ego, he was cast down to the pits and flames and remained there for a billion years. So now we have an ending for a film where we have a chance to succor Lucifer and heal the wound between Heaven and Hell. They missed the boat!"* 

Bradbury's proposed ending is fascinating for a couple of reasons. The first being that Rosemary's natural  instincts as a protective mother take over. Despite her pretty docile and subservient behavior throughout most of the film, her single focus is that which most mothers have: I must protect my child no matter the cost. When intentions are revealed and the whole coven is over to celebrate the birth, instead of falling in-line like she had before, instincts kick in and it's off to the races to get her baby as far away as she can from these lunatics.

Secondly, the play on religion would be unlike any other that I've seen in film. It not only acknowledges that good and evil are both at play but it also brings about something which is almost never mentioned in horror: that God and Satan are cut from the same cloth. Usually, you'll see an exorcism or some other type of ceremony performed which will keep the horned one at bay. But how often do you see something where a holy place, which is supposed to allow for a direct line to God, being used as a link rather than an intermediary like a priest? And how incredibly powerful would that last line be? 'God, Lord God, take back your son!' Fade to black.

Every time I watch the film now, this 'new' ending overwrites what I saw onscreen. I can't help it. Not only does it make more sense given a woman's instinct to protect her child, it would have made for a much more exciting and compelling conclusion to the film. They missed the boat indeed.

*Source: Ray Bradbury Uncensored: The Unauthorized Biography by Gene Beley


Pax Romano said...

Have you read "Son of Rosemary" the much maligned sequel that Levin wrote in the 90's? As it turns out, Roe bides her time and plans to take "Andy" away from the coven figuring that she can keep his satanic side from taking over. However, the Coven discover her plan, and through some hocus pocus they put her into a coma that she remains in until the final member of the Coven dies (some time in 1998)...then the real fun starts!

senski said...

Levin has got this thing about the quiet acquiescence to Evil; it's the same with The Stepford Wives. So very later 60s, when the downer endings started coming with more regularity.

Planet of Terror said...

@Pax, no I haven't. And to be honest, I've never heard of it before. Sounds interesting. I wonder why a sequel has never been discussed. Despite my gripe, I think there is enough here that could be expanded upon and Rosemary's internal conflict could be explored more.

@Senski, I think that's why I love Bradbury's proposed ending so much. It's powerful and a complete opposite to the types of endings we saw from that era.

MarkusWelby1 said...

The imaginative dude in me wants to argue that we don't know that she didn't do those things. The odds were clearly not in her favor to just grab a knife and say "leave my baby alone" Having said that, yeah, that Bradbury ending would have been better! great stuff!

Planet of Terror said...

Markus, that's possible I guess. I don't think she did though as the film ended with her looking like she'd taken to being a mother to the child as per their wishes. It felt like she'd stick around, close to all those people who'd done nothing but betray her.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

First, I love your blog. And second, I very much respect Ray Bradbury, but I think he's dead wrong here. There's a reason that this movie ends like it does. This was the beginning of the counter-culture movement, etc. in the 1960s (plus, it was an adapted book! Would Bradbury like it if I changed all his story's endings in movies? I doubt it!), and this was where a horror story could finally say: "Up yours, squares! You've filled us up with your rules, and we're rejecting them!" Like the hippies and the whole counter-culture thing, this was rebelling against your parents' "happy ending", where Dracula always got staked, and Jesus won the day with His resurrection, making good always win out over evil! This was, possibly, the first big movie where the dark side won, and then that just continued in movies for years. And that's why it works so well: because it's so unexpected, but you understand that mother love wins out and she undersatans, I mean, satans, I mean, understands, that these people are on her baby's side, and she'd probably just get the baby killed anyway trying to escape. Plus, remember the end of The Omen? Satan's brat can't go into a church! That kid would claw her face off first, and then wouldn't everyone notice she's carrying around a murderous monster baby? Then that could be the new intro to Larry Cohen's It's Alive, and then have that baby be adopted in The Omen. That would be fun, but still, I think the movie's ending is perfect the way it is, especially with the crazy carnival music stuff, etc. It's just right for me! Bradbury is a great writer, but I think he's wrong here (Sorry, Ray).

BTW: I don't know how this stuff works, but I write another blog called "unconditioned response", and I'm not being anonymous on purpose.

Planet of Terror said...

Thank you for the kind words.

Wow, I can not argue against that. Fantastic points all around. I may need to revise my stance here :)

Undead Nicole said...

I want to watch the movie with Bradbury's ending SO MUCH! That was my one major complaint in the film. I like that they had her maternal instinct kick it, but it would've been so much better if they'd allowed it to give her the strength to grow a spine, hold off the Great Old Ones (heehee) and do whatever it took to protect her son. I wish someone far more skilled at filmmaking than I am could somehow create a fan edit with that ending. :)

Planet of Terror said...

Undead Nicole, thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion. I think that's what I keep coming back to in Bradbury's version. I understand the shock of this one not having a happy ending and it being a big kick to the gut. At the time, a big no-no in cinema. However, no matter the woman, their protective instinct kicks in. Instead, Rosemary continued to be the subservient, weak-willed individual she was through most of the film and I just did not find that believable.

Regardless, I'm not decrying the merits of the film. I still think it's great. I just think it could have benefited from a much more compelling ending.