439. The power of the great (XIII)
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
An accusation that dogged the director Roman Polanski for many decades was that he was somehow linked to the occult world, since his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson’s gang—and the link was especially acute since Polanski often directed films that dealt with occult themes, notably Rosemary’s Baby. Indeed, Tate was killed in 1969, the very year after Rosemary’s Baby was released; the very year after Polanski crafted a film that described how a woman was raped by the Devil and gave birth to the Antichrist—and, in the final twist, came to love and care for what was, after all, her baby.
I doubt Polanski has any conscious interest in the occult; however, as an artist, everything he does involves symbolic manipulation—magic, in other words. Polanski’s approach to film holds that films are remembered through scenes; hence, for Polanski, every scene is a self-contained story that must be perfect. Polanski is an obsessive who will redo the same shot up to seventy times to get it right. My contention is that when Polanski made Rosemary’s Baby he crafted such a finely honed work about devilry that he summoned up the forces that would kill his wife; in short, the film was a magical spell that changed consciousness—and, remember, in the film evil triumphs absolutely unopposed.
The attention to detail in Rosemary’s Baby starts in the first scene. Rosemary and her husband visit an apartment previously occupied by the recently deceased Mrs. Gardenia—a reference to Gardnerian witchcraft, essentially modern Wicca, which was founded in the 1920s. In a brief shot in the apartment, Rosemary glances at a letter written by Gardenia that says she cannot continue to associate herself with…(with the coven next door, as it happens). A momentary shot, but quite revealing; and, indeed, Gardenia is billed as New York’s first prominent female lawyer—presumably through witchcraft. An in-joke about feminism, a movement Polanski detests.
Deeper still, the Satanic coven is led by a man called “Roman”—Polanski’s own first name, surely not good juju. Before Rosemary’s Baby he was on the up; afterwards, he met years of controversy and disaster—not least when he himself sodomised a thirteen-year-old girl. In his quest for verisimilitude, Polanski employed Anton LaVey—head of the then-new Church of Satan—to play Satan, the entity that rapes Rosemary. LaVey sat astride Mia Farrow’s chest during this notorious scene, Satan himself being obscured throughout: “This is no dream, this is really happening,” screams Rosemary—this is really happening.
As it happens, Susan Atkins—the Manson girl who claimed to have murdered Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate—had previously associated with LaVey in an event dubbed a “witch’s sabbath” (just like the witch’s coven in Rosemary’s Baby); and Manson himself was said to have visited LaVey’s house. Funnily enough, very little is made as regards LaVey’s role in Rosemary’s Baby; the connection is kept quiet—and it is not even mentioned on the Wikipedia page for the film, except that right at the bottom, under “See Also”, it lists LaVey’s name.
My suggestion is not a conscious conspiracy between Manson and LaVey that led to the murders. My view is that Polanski made a film about Satanism and evil’s triumph that was so potent—manipulated consciousness so powerfully through symbolism, as with all magic—that he conjured up Satanic forces that destroyed his own wife and unborn child. All the consciousnesses involved in the murder were linked to Polanski by a few degrees of separation through Rosemary’s Baby—and it was, of course, Polanski’s baby that was blotted out that night on Cielo Drive. I take Polanski as a secular materialist, but as an artist he conjured up powers in the psyche—particularly by lending his own name to a Satanic witch who sought to birth the AntiChrist—that rebounded on him in an extreme way; and this is why, even for entertainment, caution should be exercised when Satan is portrayed as regnant and unopposed.