4-26-2016 MOVIE REVIEW: SAFE (1995)
Going back and re-reviewing Todd Haynes’ 1995 film “Safe” left me puzzled with some lingering questions after the pictures near two hour runtime with little to no resolve at the end.
Haynes approached a young Julianne Moore (the first of several collaborations with her) who had just got through shooting “The Fugitive” about starring in a low budget independent film surrounding a wealthy homemaker whose physical and mental health deteriorate because of the environment around her.
Carol (not to be confused with the protagonist “Carol” in Haynes’ 2015 drama of the same name) has everything: A beautiful home in Southern California, lots of money, a loving husband and spends her days doing whatever she pleases. On the way home from a gym workout one day she develops a severe cough, so serious that she sees a doctor. He says that Carol is completely healthy and recommends to both she and her husband that they visit a psychiatrist for further examination. The psychiatrist says that her condition may be self-inflicted –that is things like stress could be causing the issue but otherwise doesn’t offer much help. When Carol stumbles across an infomercial on late night television offering help for those suffering from similar symptoms and quote “environmental disease” she talks her husband into sending her to an outpatient holistic retreat called Wrenwood in order to get relief; of which may or may not have worked.
“Safe” was masterfully shot and captures the essence of the 80’s in near time-capsule style fashion with characters in tight jeans, headbands, high-top bushy socks, wild hair, vintage Mercedes Benz and Billy Ocean blaring out over the car-radio. The idea of humans causing environmental damage, thereby harming themselves seems incredibly pertinent in the todays overcrowded 21st century but the film, despite setting itself up to be quite a thriller, never picks a direction and runs with it. Instead audiences are left scratching their heads as to why the film doesn’t provide some sort of climax and/or resolution to the problems “Carol” is facing. This could have been achieved had Haynes added something sinister to the plot…
What if Carol’s husband Greg White (Xander Berkeley), who the film portrays as incredibly frustrated yet totally devoted to his wife and her ailment, had developed a relationship with another woman whom he loved more and the reason Carol was sick had nothing to do with the environment but everything to do with her being poisoned with Arsenic by her husband. OR as Haynes himself has louted too in interviews what if “Safe” was about an early outbreak of AIDS in the 1980’s (of which is the time it was first clinically observed in the United States) and again had nothing to do with the environment? The way the film ends doesn’t eliminate this as a possibility as throughout Carol suffers from flu-like symptoms including throwing up and fatigue with no-one is able to diagnose something wrong with her.
I believe a film as fragile as “Safe” (the plot develops at a snails pace) and audiences who screened it deserve a proper ending that concludes with a definite cause for the effect. We are taken deep into the lives of the White Family and Haynes is lucky audiences stick around past the hour mark with no more drama than a made-for-TV movie and the picture taking off so slowly and going absolutely nowhere.
I give Todd Haynes 1995 film “Safe” 2.0 out 4 stars.