In order to understand the place of Rosemary’s Baby in U.S. culture, it is necessary to analyze how paranoia and privacy operated in discussions of pregnancy as well as to examine the ways in which the 1960s panic over electronic surveillance revealed a gender gap at work in discourses of privacy and paranoia. Though Rosemary’s Baby takes place very specifically from 1965 to 1966, Levin began the novel in the early 1960s and worked on it for six years; its production time thus spanned a good part of the decade. During that period, Levin’s wife gave birth to three sons, and much of the obstetric advice and popular guides to pregnancy that Levin might have read (an excerpt from a pregnancy manual serves as the epigraph to some editions of the novel) articulated pregnancy as a paranoid experience: affectively paranoid in the sense that they invoked fear, suspicion and aggressivity as the emotions of pregnancy, structurally paranoid in their alarm over the pregnant woman’s inability to secure the separation of internal and external elements. He and his readers would also have been aware of medical advances in the ability to visualize the fetus, best-known through the 1965 Life magazine cover stories “The Drama of Life before Birth” and “Control of Life,” which respectively featured the first photographs of a living fetus in utero and advertised the wonders of ultra-sound technology. The media coverage of those new technologies highlighted the aggressive components of paranoia and demonstrated the extent to which the culture promoted and rewarded male paranoia about female pregnancy, even when that paranoia implied an invasion of women’s privacy. At the same time, a national furor raged over an invasion of privacy that was deemed unacceptable because it affected men in the sanctity of their own homes: the bugging, wire-tapping, and other forms of private surveillance that emerged as objects of investigation and concern in the late 1950s, led to congressional hearings and a spate of journalistic coverage during the 1960s, and culminated in the passage of a federal Privacy Act in the 1970s.
Popular guides to pregnancy written during the 1960s attempted to stave off female paranoia about pregnancy by couching any references to fear and anxiety in the form of an imperative negation: don’t worry, there’s nothing to be afraid of. “The prospective mother … must realize that having a baby is nothing to fear” (Meeks and Kalafatich). Under the cover of such denegations, the guides repeatedly associated pregnancy with fear, then stigmatized that fear as irrational and potentially harmful. The guides depicted the first stage of pregnancy as an epistemological puzzle that necessarily entailed suspicion, but prescribed enlightened scientific knowledge and authority, as embodied in their own texts and in obstetricians, as the antidote to any worries: “[T]he woman who suspects that she may be pregnant should see a doctor at once. Pregnancy is a perfectly normal experience. It’s a time to enjoy without paying much attention to the sage advice or horror stories of friends and relatives…. [I]f you have fears or worries take them to your doctor” (Holt 24-25; emphasis added). Rosemary’s obstetrician Dr. Sapirstein offers her similar advice, although he even warns her against reading books: “‘Please don’t read books…. [A]ny questions you have, call me night or day. Call me, not your mother or your Aunt Fanny’”.
Most of the action in the film is set in the apartment Rosemary shares with her husband, and most of the picture was shot on a soundstage. Polanski said he and his collaborators “asked ourselves, ‘What kind of atmosphere can we create?’ We were trying to have a different atmosphere in every room in the apartment, so when you went from room to room, there would be a different light.”
[Cinematographer William] Fraker was always happy to discuss his collaboration with Polanski, a director he held in the highest esteem, and he especially admired the filmmaker’s penchant for withholding information from the audience. Polanski recalled that one of the objectives on Rosemary’s Baby was to create “depth, not just a flat field” via composition and camera placement. He explained, “If you use composition in such a way that things are hidden from your camera, you can discover something that was hidden when you move sideways, particularly if you use wider lenses, where you come close to the object in the foreground. That was the sort of thing that I was trying to do on Rosemary’s Baby, more so than on my previous films. Since then I have learned a lot, but these things were relatively new for me then.”