Todd Haynes’ newest film, Carol (2015), sees Haynes going back to the period of 1950s America in a slightly subversive mold. This week for the UCFS, we are screening Haynes’ first foray into the (problematic) nostalgia of the immediate post-war period, 2002’s Far from Heaven. But perhaps nostalgia isn’t the right word. Haynes was born well after the 1950s, so nostalgia cannot have been a possible reference point for him. Perhaps it is a different sort of nostalgia, one of immersing yourself into the supersaturated worlds of Douglas Sirk for the first time, marvelling at the way in which his deceptively pedestrian subjects are rendered with a pallet of otherworldly vigor. Regardless of what type of nostalgia it is, Haynes is definitely tapping into something about our modern notions of the past, recasting our conventional vision of the past as one which is radically incomplete, and putting forth a whole new one, far more subversive than would ever have been allowed in the 1950s.
So why should you see Far from Heaven? Well, I’ve got three reasons:
ONE – The Colours
Colour in Far from Heaven emanates from everything, and bleeds over into everything else. The colour is heavenly, in a couple of senses. First, there’s just the visual pleasure to be had from taking in the bright reds, oranges, and yellows of the autumn season of Haynes’ Hartford, so bright and vivid that you might worry the actors are on their way to heaven after inhaling the paint fumes. But it’s also heavenly in that nothing on screen seems of this world, especially when the moonlight is just a bit too blue, and the sunsets are just too yellow. If for nothing else, come watch the movie for its poppy colours.
TWO – The Players
Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid are both excellent in their roles as wife and husband, respectively. They have their work cut out for them, both feeling like they belong to a bygone era of film acting while at the same time, navigating entirely new territory with that style of acting. Slowly, their heightened line deliveries begin to feel like the artificial performances that they are, and the true nature of their romantic repressions comes out, blindsiding us with a degree of emotional truth which didn’t seem possible at the beginning of the film. Any more and I’d get into spoiler territory, but suffice to say that both leads are at the tops of their games here.
THREE – The Homages
The film is heavily inspired by Douglas Sirk films, and in particular, All that Heaven Allows (1955), but this isn’t the first film to use Sirk’s story to make a comment on social relations and the suffocating feelings of social norms. Rainer W. Fassbinder, in 1974 released Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, which transplanted Sirk’s story of forbidden love to West Germany and changed the younger Rock Hudson character into the titular Ali, a Moroccan guest worker. That film was critiquing the exclusionary ideas of German race relations, grounding the melodrama within a political situation. Far from Heaven on the other hand, is much different from Ali, and even All that Heaven Allows to some extent. Its purpose as a film is much more self-aware than either of the films is. The “spin” Haynes puts on Sirk’s original speaks to the power of the original, but is also speaks greatly about the time in which Haynes was working in. Thus, for reason #3, watch the film to see how Haynes uses the constraints of a 50s-style adaptation to speak about his own times.
Far from Heaven will be screening on Friday, February 12 at 5:00 PM, in SS203. See you there!
By Kevin Dong