Roman Polanski incorporated religious themes into his films, “A Knife In The Water” (Poland 1962) and “Rosemary’s Baby” (U. S. 1968). “ A Knife In The Water” contains some Christian imagery that is not incorporated into the plot or theme of the film. In contrast, the central theme of “Rosemary’s Baby” is religion. I believe this difference illustrates the fact that Polanski desired to make a radical religious film but was unable to do so until he came to The United States. “A Knife In The Water” is a film about money and power.
A wealthy couple picks up a young hitchhiker and invites him to spend the day with them on their yacht. Through out the day the older man, Andre, and the boy struggle for power. The struggle ends with Andre thinking he has killed the boy, and the boy sleeping with Andre’s wife. (Polanski 1962) Christian imagery, and illusions to Biblical mythology, are subtly woven into this film. The boy is portrayed as somewhat of a Christ figure. At one point he is seen lying on the deck of the yacht in a crucifix position with the sun forming a halo around his head. He hangs off the boat while it is moving and attempts to walk on the water.
The boy has wounds on his hands from holding the hot saucepan. Like Christ the boy wanders from place to place on foot. The most obvious comparison Polanski makes between the boy and Christ is that the boy is presumed to be dead after Andre plunges him into the water. He then “rises from the dead” after Andre swims ashore to contact the authorities. (Butler 39) “Rosemary’s Baby” is very different from Polanski’s first film. This film is about an expectant mother whose husband allows her to become impregnated by the devil in exchange for success in his acting career.
When Rosemary begins to catch on to the fact that her husband and neighbors are witches and worshipers of the devil she becomes afraid for her baby. She suspects that they are going to take her baby from her and use it in a satanic ritual. Both Rosemary and the viewer are shocked to discover that the coven of witches doesn’t plan to give her baby to Satan. The demonic looking baby is Satan. It becomes apparent that religion is an important issue in “Rosemary’s Baby” early on in the film. The first time Rosemary and Guy have dinner with the Castevets the conversation quickly turns to religion.
Rosemary becomes uncomfortable when the Castevets express their opinion that the Catholic religion and the Pope are more about appearance than authenticity. (Butler 149) Both the meals shared with the Castevet’s and the special pregnancy drink that Minnie makes for Rosemary represent communing with the devil. (Bruce 2) The concept of dinning as a form of communing with the devil is discussed in the Bible. (1 Corinthians 10: 20-22) The food and drink given by the Castevets symbolizes the Christian Eucharist with an evil twist. Instead of representing the body and blood of Jesus, it represents the body and blood of Satan.
The chocolate mousse given to Rosemary and Guy by Minnie brings about Rosemary’s ultimate communion with the devil. A drug placed in the mousse causes Rosemary to pass out. While she’s unconscious she is raped and impregnated by Satan. Small doses of reality mingle with drug-induced dreams. Rosemary dreams that she is in the Sistine Chapel. She sees Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”. This painting symbolizes her fruitlessly reaching out to God for help. She finds herself on a Catholic’s only yacht and then floating in the sea. In literature the flowing and ever-changing sea often symbolizes the Chaos Monster.
In the Old Testament of the Bible the Chaos Monster is a figure of evil. (Psalm 89: 9-10) The image of Rosemary floating in the sea represents her helplessly drowning in an evil to vast for her to combat. In her dream, Rosemary sees her friend Hutch dressed as the Pope. He holds out his papal ring for her to kiss and she discovers that it contains tannis root, the same herb that is found in the charm given to her by the Castevets. At first, when Rosemary begins to emerge from her dream for a quick glimpse of reality, she thinks that she is still dreaming. At first she sees herself having sex with her husband.
Her husband’s body is quickly replaced by that of a demon. Images of her naked husband and neighbors chanting and performing satanic rituals over the bed flash in and out of her consciousness. All at once Rosemary realizes that she’s not dreaming and screams, “This is really happening! ” (Polanski 1968) When Rosemary goes to meet her friend, Hutch, at a downtown department store she sees a scene of Mary and the Baby Jesus in a store window. She stops and dwells on this scene for quite some time. The fact the Rosemary is so drawn to the image of Christ and his mother foreshadows the fact that she is to be the mother of the anti-Christ.
My analysis of the religious content of Polanski’s films “A Knife In The Water” and “Rosemary’s Baby” clearly shows that “Rosemary’s Baby” contains a much larger quantity of religious material. More importantly, the religious subject matter in “Rosemary’s Baby” is extremely deviant from generally excepted religious beliefs. It is not hard to understand how some viewers would find this film to be disturbing and morally objectionable. Both films received criticism from the officials of the countries in which they were produced.
The Gomulka Regime criticized “A Knife In The Water” at The Thirteenth Party Congress in 1964 for presenting a negative view of Polish life. (Cook 698) “Rosemary’s Baby” was condemned by the US Roman Catholic Office For Motion Pictures. The official reason for the church’s condemnation was, “ The perverted use which the film makes of conventional Christian beliefs and it’s mockery of religious persons and practices” (qtd. in Butler 161) If the Polish government criticized “A Knife In The Water” they never would have allowed “Rosemary’s Baby”, a film which was even condemned in the more liberal United States.
The media tends to portray Polanski as an evil man because of the abundance of occult material in his American made films. When asked about this, Polanski denies any particular interest in the devil. (Peary 2) I tend to believe him. I think that he makes such a loud religious statements because he was prohibited from doing so for most of his life in Poland. He had to come to American to get his voice heard, and now that he has he’s going to make sure it gets heard in a big way.