Powerful but understated film with multiple meanings and a bravura performance from Julianne Moore
Although it's been almost ten years since filmmaker Todd Haynes (Velvet
Goldmine, Far From Heaven) made Safe, the film's only secured cinematic
release in Australia in 2004. As Safe quietly satirises the 80s, the
delayed release improves it, adding another layer of perspective to a
heroine who lives life in a series of bubbles.
It's 1987, and timid California housewife Carol (a young Julianne
Moore) is immersed in upper-middle class minutiae – ensuring her couch
is the right colour, sleepwalking through a tepid aerobics class, and
submitting to her husband (Greg White from 24). But gradually cracks
appear in this pristine life, tiredness, unexplained illness…until she
is diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity. She then moves to
Wrenwood, a healing retreat founded by the charismatic Peter (Peter
Friedman) – but will this solve her problem? Or is it just another
escape? Safe is a very interesting film about a woman so overwhelmed by
her environment that she becomes allergic to it. Writer and director
Haynes has combined aspects of the disease film (e.g. Love Story) with
the psychological thriller – as Carol doesn't know what triggers her
symptoms, the audience never knows when she'll have another attack.
While Haymes criticises the New Age belief that illness is
psychologically-based, in Carol's case, it's impossible to separate the
psychological and physical aspects of her illness. The cinematography
shows her dwarfed by her environment and Haymes offers no easy
solutions. ***½/***** stars.