Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Location: milwaukee, wi

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Safe (Todd Haynes, 1995)

Safe is a hard film to talk about, because it's so glacially paced and internal. Carol White, played understatedly and wonderfully by Julianne Moore, is a typical 80s affluent housewife, with a southern California mansion, a rich husband, and no job. She fills her days with things like lunches with friends, aerobics, and picking out the absolute perfect couch for her home. She is disturbingly blank, with no real personality, just a desperate need to please everyone around her. Things go (even more) terribly wrong, though, when Carol starts getting sick, headaches, nausea, and panic attacks, with no apparent physical cause. Carol attends a seminar on "environmental illness" on a whim, becomes convinced that it's what is making her so sick, and eventually gets so bad that she needs to move out to a community of the environmentally ill in the New Mexican desert.

Much of the social critique in Safe is too obvious for me to really appreciate. It's pretty obvious, for example, that Carol's vacuous life is probably the thing that's caused her illness; her psyche has started revolting against the utterly empty, material life she has been living, so much so that she has to move out of modern culture entirely and back to a more primitive, basic way of life. The interesting thing about Carol's illness, though, is that she gets worse as she goes to the treatment center, forcing her to eventually isolate herself completely (even as the prospect of a new, meaningful relationship reveals itself), in the brilliant, quiet final scene. If modern society is really what is making Carol sick, why does she get worse as she isolates herself more and more? Is it meaningful relationships that she craves? Obviously, self-love (as represented in the last scene) is the first step to any kind of real life, but at what cost?

Safe is also intriguing in the context of disease movies (which Todd Haynes discusses in the DVD pamphlet), especially AIDS. AIDS, a new disease at the time, is mentioned several times in the movie in conjunction with EI. The guru of the community Carol moves to also has AIDS, and, coincidentally, seems to be exploiting Carol as badly as her husband has been. Both are new diseases, the products of modern culture, and ones that are misunderstood and stigmatized popularly. But I wonder again what Haynes, an openly gay man as well as early AIDS activist, is trying to say with these parallels.

Okay, this was more of a musing post than a review, but Safe does that to you. It left me thinking for a while afterward, and probably still into the future. A must for those who don't mind incredibly slow films with little to no resolution (which I'm almost always frustrated with, myself).


RIYL: Short Cuts

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Comments on "Safe (Todd Haynes, 1995)"


Blogger The Masked Avenger said ... (9:25 AM) : 

I think for many people that Todd Haynes movie, Safe, was actually too subtle in its social critique rather than too obvious. I don't believe its intention was to psychologize Carol's illness, although its true she has no inner life--and hence few resources for resisting the psychologization of her illness by almost all the other characters in the movie. If you listen to the director's commentary on the 2005 DVD I think you will change your take on his purpose. Yes, he is interested in the parallels between Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and AIDS. Sufferers of both illnesses were/are stigmatized, marginalized, and blamed for their illnesses in the absence of much information on biological causes (on-going for MCS). One thing many people may miss in the movie is the documentation of the continuous chemical assault Carol is under by things generally taken for granted: permanent wave chemicals, car exhaust, magic markers, cleaning products, dry-cleaning chemicals, new furnishings, spray deodorant, etc. The things that keep us "safe," insulated, and occupied here in the U.S. The critique is not so much of Carol but of all of us and may therefore be hard to let in.


Blogger fin de fichier said ... (12:10 AM) : 

Some of apparent obviousness is just a game Haynes plays. I see the same thing in Far from Heaven, in which the treatment of homophobia and racism can seem rather obvious.

It is the slight internal intertexualities, if you will, that matters with Haynes. Remember that he earned a degree in semiotics at Brown. I think Haynes himself revealed one of the most subtle but important critiques, which is of the perils of certain constructs and social milieus of "liberalism" failing by "turning inward." Although Dunning seems like the "oppressor" the film may actually suggest that he is just as trapped as the other residents at Wrenwood. "If I believe that life is that devastating, that destructive, I'm afraid my immune system will believe it too."


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