Safe 1995 ★★★★

Todd Haynes’ underrated, Safe, is a glacially slow, dramatically inert and coolly detached study of a woman slowly being poisoned by modern life. Yet for all its traditional faults each ‘problem’ is transformed into a positive. The slow pacing and lack of drive in the story helps to create a hypnotic rhythm, and coupled with the Badalamenti-like imposing soundtrack, evokes an ominous air closer to a horror film. The detachment helps mirror Carol’s own dislocation from society and without Haynes’ leading the audience to a particularly conclusion, allows you to decide exactly what is wrong with her and whether she will ever be free from her inexplicable sickness.

Set in the San Fernando Valley during the late ‘80s some have read the film as an AIDS allegory yet for me this is a simplified interpretation and too narrow in focus. A more broader reading, a story of how modern life suffocates and pollutes, is perhaps a better way to look at the film. Carol’s life consists of ordering around her maids, going shopping and lunching with her girlfriends. Her life, although perfect in terms of material possessions, is empty and unfulfilled. She exists within a world that is not too far removed from Stepford where women have perfect hair and lives yet everything is eerily out of sync.

As she gradually becomes hypersensitive to every synthetic material or manmade gas she is dislocated from modern life and her loved ones. Eventually she finds her way to a New Age commune that borders on a cult, free of chemicals and the trappings of modernity and progress, yet this haven is as cynical and corrupt as the outside world even if she finds an inner-peace within it. Julianne Moore is brilliant in the film, she is a woman who, stripped of responsibility or purpose, is a walking shell, meek and fitting in with the perfect and privileged people that surround her.

The film is an acquired taste as many will find this slow and uneventful (and the film is undoubtedly both) but if you can be drawn in by the film’s rhythm it is a rewarding and often mesmerising experience.

18 Comments

  • This sounds fascinating. Too bad it appears to be out of print and unavailable in the U.S. (at least not on Netflix, Amazon, or iTunes).

  • For whatever reason it is hard to get hold of everywhere now. It is a shame as it deserves more attention, even if the quality of the DVD is pretty poor.

  • Odd that Haynes' Poison is readily available on Netflix in the U.S. but this isn't.

  • Yeah the quality isn't very good on the DVD I watched and that was from Blockbuster a few years ago.

  • I picked a copy up of ebay late last year that for some reason turned out to be a German release albeit in English. Need to pull my socks up and watch it.

  • It is definitely worth a watch, Twan. I can't guarantee you'll like it but seeing as you already own the film it would be foolish not to try it.

  • I guess it's been a while, so this probably won't make its way back to anyone having trouble finding it, but an interesting bit of news: the folks at Criterion recently announced they'll be releasing this at some point (no set date yet). I haven't seen the film yet, but I'm quite excited to see it will be more widely available soon enough.

  • @Jacob: Where did you hear this? It's great news if true as the DVD that currently exists is terrible.

  • @Adam: A while back I watched a live feed of a Q&A with the co-founders (or at least, that's who I assume it was) of Criterion. One of the questions asked was if they had any future plans to release more Todd Haynes films, and one of the founders said that they were currently working on a release of a Haynes film. When pressed for more information, he said it had exactly four letters in the title. They didn't announce any more than that, and there's no way of telling when the release will be, but it's definitely exciting news.

  • @Jacob: Well that will be a definite purchase from me when it does get a release.

  • I actually think Safe is rumored to be coming out this year. It's definitely in the pipeline, as they confirmed this at their Wexner Chat this past year. There's more information on the subject at the Criterion Forum; I'll see if I can find the link for it.

  • @Criterion10: A link would be great if you could find it.

  • This is the thread in which it is discussed: www.criterionforum.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=12377&hilit=wexner&start=2525#p459839

    Basically, Criterion gives a chat each year at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Colorado. The past year, Criterion President Peter Becker was one of the persons from the company being interviewed. I watched the live stream of the event in which he confirmed the eventual release of Safe.

  • Thanks, Criterion10. It's a film that will really benefit from the HD treatment.

  • Is there a link online to watch this, and if so could you give it to me?

  • No idea. See answer to question one.

    I do believe it is coming to the Criterion Collection in the near future though.

  • Well that's good.

  • It certainly is when the current DVD is so shoddy.

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