Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rosemary's Baby Miniseries Part One

I've only seen Roman Polanski's 1968 Rosemary's Baby once. For me, it is not enjoyably re-watchable. It honestly scared the living hell out of me. A naive woman with whom virtual strangers make a deep investment in, prompting an invasion of space and privacy is creepy. Seeing a Time magazine in sharp focus from Rosemary's POV asking, "Is God Dead?" is unsettling yet intriguing. And Rosemary's complete loss of control and madness by the hands of others is what Polanski captures masterfully.

Rosemary's Baby is a classic for a reason. Even after one viewing, it sticks to you like that pouch that won't shrink away from your mid-section after months of exercise. I'll never forget how the film made me feel, and for that reason, I find no impulse to ever see it again.


The only interest I found in the news that NBC was going to air a miniseries based off of the film and novel penned by Ira Levin was Zoe Saldana in the leading role. More a fan of women of color in leading genre roles than I am of the actress herself, my fandom was combined with an odd curiosity I held based on my lack of attachment to the '68 piece. I've long resolved to the fact that remakes happen and many more remakes will presently and certainly in the future so how was Rosemary's Baby any different? If I paid money to sit amongst an ignorant audience in the theater to see the 2010 abomination of A Nightmare On Elm Street, I could get through any remake of anything.

This was my approach to the the four hours I'd spend watching this production. Saldana's Rosemary is happily married to Guy Woodhouse (Patrick J. Adams). After a tragic miscarriage and a series of career shifts for Guy, they move to Paris for his residency as an educator while he doubles his work to make his dream of being a writer a reality.

Overall, the first part of this series was reactionary instead of moving; boring with some interesting, visceral moments, and simply underwhelming. But when I didn't find myself turning off the television after the first hour and calling it a night, I knew it was saying more beneath its mediocrity. What's frustrating at times about remakes are their inability to stay both aesthetically striking and just as awesomely commentative on the current times as the films they claim for inspiration. For this first half, it does the job of at least poking at the generation now of late 20's/early 30-somethings who are still trying to "find their way in the world" and the madness that prompts. Millennials, as people like myself are called and our anxieties are magnified in the first half of this miniseries in a nice balance of subtle and overt ways that at the very least, make it both relateable and uncomfortable for the audience its attempting to target.

Career journeys are arduous; especially in the beginning. I watched my mother jump from aspirations of being a lawyer, English teacher, to an IT professional which in 1982 was an easy way to learn a new skill that would almost immediately translate into dollars and job security. Her career path was reactionary. She had a child to care for. I was born months after she received her first IT certification and landing a company gig. Why struggle too much if you really don't have to? Luckily, IT is her place of comfort, but I personally can't imagine choosing a profession because the money payoff is immediate and I have kids to feed. With the tiny luxury of having an opposing path, I painstakingly strive for a career that matters.

Guy takes on a similar ideology as a struggling writer. When he confesses to Rosemary that he's been writing the same paragraph over and over for a time, his anxiety spikes. It's subtle, because although he finds comfort in Rosemary's support, nothing can undo that panicky knot on the inside when you pressure yourself into demonstrating your talent for the written word and nothing transpires in the moment. Every neurotic thought creeps in when you hear the words, "writer's block".

His teaching opportunity clearly does not fulfill his desire to be a successful writer. For creatives, there's nothing more frustrating than a job that takes away from the prime time needed to achieve that dream occupation. It's a fear of ultimate failure when you're momentarily creatively stifled. It's an anxiety driven by finding no satisfaction in your daily routine. Guy seemingly cares for Rosemary, but he seems preoccupied by his thirst for a prosperous career. This consumption leads to tempting offers by Roman Castevet, the implication being that their exchanges will give Guy what he wants. This goal requires detrimental sacrifice.

How much are we willing to suspend to achieve our goals?

The b-side of this is Roman's wife Margaux, who seduces Rosemary with material possessions (accepting a cat as a gift, an apartment, clothes) and fertility (eating Margaux's '"fertility soup"), all disguised as gratitude for returning her wallet. Rosemary's natural desires drive her just as much as Guy, which makes the both of them very easy to manipulate.


This is my problem with the character re-imagined as 'modern'. Rosemary follows and supports her husband from New York to Paris with very little given to the audience that she has her own interests, hobbies, even career outside of being a chef. If you blinked, you could've very well missed the scene with herself and friend Julie in uniform preparing a course. Rosemary moves through the requests of others and acquiesces to the Castevet's intrusion. She didn't want the clothes given in her new accommodations, she didn't ask for the cat, and certainly didn't search for answers about her fertility prospects with Margaux. I can't imagine Paris being a complete dream of her's. Even though many with the thirst for travel would jump at the opportunity, she seems immersed only to get by, not really to take in the city. She speaks very little French, if any, and sore thumbs it through asking for directions and being mugged.

Her established lack of agency keeps in tone with the original concept I suppose, but it reads as pretty lackadaisical in what could have been something much more innovative. With Rosemary's reactionary attitude, the first part as a whole feels ill paced if not downright awkward.

Additionally, I can not help but mention Rosemary's race plays a part only in the fact that she's married to a man of a different race, blending right into the prognostics of a non-white majority in the United States by the year 2043. Normalizing interracial relationships doesn't make the audience blind to it, but we understand Rosemary and Guy as a relatively loving, married couple in our current times where their relationship is neither unprecedented nor uncommon.

I'll be checking in for Part 2 if only for closure and to see if this miniseries wraps with some cohesiveness or progress.

Part 2 of Rosemary's Baby concludes tonight at 9PM EST on NBC!

*Read more on the miniseries, both neutral and critical here and here.



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