Safe

Safe ★★★★½

There's something almost Lynchian in how Safe portrays the pervasive sense of discomfort and paranoia that engulfs housewife Carol White's existence in 1987 California as she falls prey to an apparent phantom illness. Her perpetually renovated home in artificial suburbia and her desperate attempts to convey a personality that appears socially acceptable are unable to conceal the utter hollowness of her day-to-day life; it's a dark truth which sees her spiral into finding a new place where she can belong, not realising that changing the exterior does nothing if the interior remains the same.

It's extremely impressive how Todd Haynes is able use Carol's plight to deftly evoke a plethora of topics; from issues prevalent at the time like the AIDS epidemic and Proposition 65 to matters that remain as relevant as ever like the banality of the wealthy, environmental decay, the burden of recovery being placed on those who are sick, cultism and the insidious nature of self-help (to quote George Carlin, ''There is no such thing as self-help, if you did it yourself you didn't need help.''). The narrative is imbued with an unnerving quality due to the use of stationary framing, abrupt editing and harsh sound design which evocatively express Carol's feelings of detachment. Julianne Moore is outstanding in the lead role considering how difficult it is to make someone who is intentionally vacant compelling to watch, but she's able to capture uncertainty in a manner that elicits so much sympathy.

The only quibble I have is that I think the first half is so gripping that the changes in the second half can come across as a little jarring, but it deserves credit for not following any conventional path and going to some very dark places thematically. The final stretch involving Carol's party and her rambling speech where she spews exactly what her new community wants to hear is a devastatingly disturbing depiction of how organisations indoctrinate; her autonomy terminated just so she can feel apart of something, no matter how irrational it is. We're left with a haunting closing image, staring at one's own reflection and seeing nothing but emptiness staring back.

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