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Rosemary Tanka [+ analysis] // Virginie Colline

September 9, 2013


Rosemary Tanka

by Virginie Colline

A chocolate mousse for dessert
a tannis root around her neck
paranoia or reality?
Rosemary is getting crazy
expecting her baby


I’ll start this with ignorance. When I got this, I didn’t know what a tanka was.
Now I do. It’s 5 line poetry.
I didn’t know what Tannis root was either.
No shame in that, it’s not even a real thing. It was the name of the Devil’s favourite root in Rosemary’s Baby, apparently.

Honestly, a tanka has to be the easiest thing in the world to write. Doesn’t it? Five lines and you’re done.
But you could say the same about Hemingway’s ‘baby shoes’…it’s easy after you’ve read the thing, but almost impossible trying to think up another [just as good].
Short can be tough.

Okay, tanka time.
The subject is clearly Rosemary’s Baby.

‘Rosemary is getting crazy,
expecting her baby.’

It has both words ‘Rosemary’ and ‘baby’, it has to be. But why?
Well, I’ve come up with two points of analysis:

1] It’s a distillation of the themes of the film so you don’t have to see it.
2] It’s an extension of the film, wondering whether Rosemary was sane or not despite the ending suggesting she wasn’t.

The first theory is similar to the shot for shot remake of Psycho a few years back, only shorter. The point of that film, said Gus Van Sant, was to see if an exact copy could recapture the brilliance of the first film.
Most people said it couldn’t, but…really, was it ever a fair trial? If you’d never seen the original Psycho, which film would you say was better? It’s shot for shot…the only difference in opinion would surely come from the performances.
Anthony Perkins is better than Vince Vaughan?
Maybe, but Vaughan’s sweatier, and it’s important for Norman Bates to be a little bit sweaty around a woman he wants to pursue/fuck.
Rosemary Tanka isn’t shot for shot, but it clearly plays on the imagery and icons of the film. You think of the name Rosemary, you either picture Mia Farrow or Rosemary Clooney, nobody else.
If you add ‘baby’, it’s just like Star Wars or Halloween. It’s part of our culture, and I reckon it stretches pretty far, especially for students who haven’t developed a genuine personality yet.
So Rosemary Tanka is an ultra-compressed version of the film, even telling you directly what the themes are. It doesn’t try to be subtle…

‘paranoia or reality?’

This is the theme of Polanski’s film. Also ‘isolation’…but I guess that could be seen as the root cause of the paranoia…you spend enough time alone, you’ll forget the rules of reality…
Why is ‘paranoia’ the first word used?
Perhaps the author/poet/tankarist believes Rosemary is paranoid and wasn’t really raped by the devil? The paranoia precedes reality because it can become your own personal reality, it can control everything you do…whereas reality can never become your paranoia.

Can it?

The film doesn’t agree with this, it says the devil is real and everyone in that fucking building was insane. Doesn’t this devalue the theme though?
If Rosemary really is justified in her paranoia…if it really was the devil…then it becomes schlock.
Perhaps this tanka is designed to correct that in just five lines?
Or maybe the film was just allegory…

Allegory of Rosemary’s Baby = being pregnant in a new flat can be scary and isolating, especially when you prepare for sex with your husband as if you’re hanging up clothes to dry.

If it’s allegory, I guess it doesn’t matter if the ending justifies Rosemary’s paranoia. The theme has already been felt.
So why bother writing this tanka?
The second theory…the author wanted to capture the terror of pregnancy without the coda of the film.
The fact that Rosemary’s baby is the son of Satan strengthens the allegory in the film, but also makes any pregnant women watching feel relieved.
Because it’s the son of Satan, and no matter how lonely and terrible they feel about their unborn kid, at least it’s not the son of Satan.
This tanka isn’t a compression of the whole film…it’s a compression of the first three quarters of it.

‘Rosemary is getting crazy,
expecting her baby’

The terror is not at an end, it’s ongoing…eternal. In this tanka, she will always be ‘getting crazy’…always ‘expecting her baby.’
The use of the present continuous tense is what gives this tanka its power.

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