Far From Heaven A
Todd Haynes achieved his greatest critical and commercial success to date with “Far From Heaven”(2002), a period domestic drama inspired by the stylish melodramas of Douglas Sirk of the 1950s.
“Far from Heaven” world premiered at the 2002 Venice Film Festival, where Julianne Moore’s performance won the Best Actress Award. It was released in the U.S. by Focus Features, outgrgrossing in box-office receipts all of Haynes’ features put together.
Like “Safe,” the narrative concerns a suburban housewife, here named Cathy Whittaker (Julianne Moore), who is thrown by social circumstances that are beyond her control into a major identity crisis.
The nominal plot is rather simple: Cathy discovers that her husband (Dennis Quaid) is secretly gay, and after a painful divorce, she falls in love with Raymond, her African-American gardener (well played by Dennis Haysbert).
But it’s the rich and dense subtext, attention to detail in every department, and meticulous reconstruction of the era and its fashions that make the film more interesting than just another rhistoric melodrama.
We get to witness Cathy’s feelings that something isn’t quite right in her marriage, as Frank begins working late, spending less time with her, and seems cold erand more distant. One day, Cathy visits Frank’s work and discovers something she never expected, her husband kissing a man.
Cathy and husband Frank are a seemingly perfect couple. When the film begins, they are interviewed for a popular magazine as a “model marriage.” They live in a beautiful home and raise two happy, healthy children, while Frank pursues a successful career in sales and Cathy cares for the home.
As was the norm at the time, at Cathy’s urging, Frank undergoes psychotherapy. However, as she tries to keep up a brave face, the emotional trauma takes a great toll on her, and she finds there are very few people she can talk with.
Cathy strikes up a friendship with Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), a black gardener who works for the Whitakers, and as she discovers how intelligent and compassionate Raymond is, she gets drawn to him, thogh initially she’s too afraid and repressed to show any over emotions.
However, Hartford is a provincial, suffocating small town, and when Mona (Celia Weston) sees Cathy and Raymond together, it sets off a wave of vicious gossip that threatens to make the Whitakers’ many secrets public knowledge.
The film pays tribute to the settings, mise-en-scne, colors, costumes, cinematography, and lighting of Douglas Sirk’s elegant melodramas of the 1950s.
“Far From Heaven” is set in Harford, Connecticut circa 1957. Cathy and her gardener Raymond’s relationship resembles that of Jane Wyman and her gardener (Rock Hudson) love affair in “All That Heaven Allows” (1955) But it’s more complex and multi- nuanced in Haynes’ film, because the bond has to overcome not only social class differences, but
Cathy’s relationship with Sybil, her African-American housekeeper (Viola Davis) recalls that of Lana Turner and Juanita Moore’s friendship in Sirk’s 1959 “Imitation of Life.”
While staying within the language of the period, Haynes updates the sexual and racial politics, showing scenarios (an inter-racial love affair and gay relationships) that would not have been permissible in Sirk’s
Moreover, the character of the gardener is more fully developed in Haynes’ film: Unlike Hudson, who was a single man, Raymond is a widower raising on his own a young girl, who’s tormented and bullied by the neighborhood’s children because of her race.
Haynes also defies Sirk’s happy ending (though it’s an ironic one), and ends his film on a more melancholy and ambiguous note, closer in tone to the “woman’s films” (pejorativel known as “weepies”) of the 1940s and 1950s
“Far From Heaven” is that rare of a film: It’s effective both as an homage to popular Hollywood genre of yesteryear, and a fully-satisfied stand-alone period melodrama, with some timely elements for the present.
“Far From Heaven” won critical acclaim and film awards, including four Oscar nominations for Moore as Best Actress (in the same year she was nominated for a supporting Oscar in “The Hours,” but lost in both categories), Haynes’ ) Original Screenplay,
Elmer Bernstein’s score, and the Cinematography.
Though losing in all four Oscar categories, the film won several Spirit Awards and was deemed as a breakthrough for the independent film movement by achieving a more mainstream recognition. As a result, it elevates the stature of Haynes
as a filmmaker and brough him the attention of a wider, mainstream audience.
Running time: 107 Minutes.
Directed and written by Todd Haynes.
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