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USA 2002
Directed by
Todd Haynes
107 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Ruth Williams
4.5 stars

Far From Heaven

Synopsis: Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) has it all. She’s attractive and intelligent, an adoring wife, attentive mother and perfect hostess. In 1957, she is surely the envy of all her female friends in their small town in Connecticut. That is, until things start to unravel. It is not long before she sees that what seemed so complete and perfect was merely a cover for unacceptable actions and unspoken feelings, the revelation of which would irrevocably change everything.

Todd Haynes goes to town here with the notion that things are not always how they seem. From the opening scene, as we follow the camera over the tops of buildings down into a picture perfect street, it is hard not to feel that there must be something amiss. What amount of energy must it take to keep this picture together? From the manicured lawns to the clean-cut children, nothing is out of place. When Cathy’s husband begins staying back late at the office, the first threads come undone. Immediately our sympathy lies with Cathy. For although the doting wife has lost status in a more modern world, it is clear that everything she does is out of her love for her family, and her desire to play her role in the best way she can.

It is only when Cathy discovers that her husband’s late nights at the office involve intimate relations with other men that her world rips apart at the seams. In many reviews and interviews, it is at this point that the name Douglas Sirk is introduced. For those readers who have not seen films such as All That Heaven Allows (1955), and Imitation of Life (1959), both directed by Sirk, it is worth catching up with them. Sirk used his art direction, camera angles and the skill of his actors to portray a world that on the surface appears to be working, however if you were to scratch that surface, the contradictions are soon be revealed. He was able to make films that appeared to be about one thing, but are really about something else. Life is not squeaky clean.

In Far from Heaven, the great skill of writer/director Todd Haynes is apparent in the way in which he is able to take a story from a very different era and make it relevant to contemporary audiences. Consider the response Frank Whittaker (Dennis Quaid) has to curing himself of his homosexuality. At no time as a member of the audience would one think that this was Haynes speaking. He is able to stand out of the way of the characters and therefore allow us to respond to their concerns and the way they choose to deal with them. As if the discovery of her husband’s sexual orientation is not enough, when Cathy befriends her black gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), she finds herself unexpectedly attracted to his intelligence and wit. It soon becomes painfully obvious that she is losing her place and her grip on the world that had once been so safe and familiar.

If the cinema is dreaming with your eyes open, as Fellini once said, then what are we to learn from the signs and symbols in this dream? Haynes is interested in the way we reduce or construct our identities. As we turn the mirror on ourselves, it’s hard not to acknowledge those times when keeping up appearances seemed to be more important than risking loss of face.




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