Safe (1995 film)  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Safe is a 1995 British/American drama film written and directed by Todd Haynes, and starring Julianne Moore. The story is a character study of a suburban California housewife whose life deteriorates under the stress of "environmental illnesses" and seeks hope from "New Age" practitioners with whom she becomes involved. Safe was voted the best film of the 1990s in the 1999 Village Voice Film Poll.


Set in an affluent neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley in 1987, the film recounts the life of a seemingly unremarkable homemaker, Carol White (Julianne Moore) who develops multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS, also known as "Twentieth-Century Disease"). MCS is a medically controversial diagnosis in which a person develops mild to severe non-specific symptoms and believes that these symptoms are triggered by chemicals found in everyday household and industrial products.

Carol passes her days with activities such as gardening, taking clothes to the dry cleaners, and attending aerobics classes. Her marriage is stable but devoid of emotional intimacy, and her son is actually a stepson from her husband's previous marriage. Her friendships are polite but distant.

As she goes about her routine, she slowly begins to develop unpredictable and strange bodily reactions, such as persistent fatigue, uncontrollable coughing (when surrounded by truck exhaust while driving), asthma-like symptoms (at a baby shower), nose bleeds (when getting a perm at a hair salon), vomiting, and eventually convulsions (at the dry cleaners).

Doctors are able to identify only one true allergy: milk, which she drinks frequently in the movie without incident. Doctors are at a loss of how to help her cope or cure her. She attends some psychotherapy sessions, but does not gain any insight into her condition.

After seeing an ad at her community center, she eventually resorts to moving to the New Age/religious retreat in the desert called Wrenwood, which is designed to help people suffering from MCS recover and is led by a man whose "relentless motivational talks amount to psychological fascism."



Safe has been described as a character study without a character.

As the film progresses, two possible, not mutually exclusive, explanations emerge: the first, is that Moore's "illness" is, in fact, only psychosomatic; the second, is that she suffers from MCS. Haynes exploits this central ambiguity to launch a self-reflexive exploration of classical narrative structure. He questions its tendency to eclipse social and political realities by restaging them as interpersonal dramas driven by character psychology.

In taking this approach to the material, Haynes utilizes his academic background in the field of art semiotics. As a result, Safe simultaneously examines a single woman's struggle with illness and a more pervasive zeitgeist of fear and alienation.

The film demonstrates Haynes' long-term interest in the once-maligned genre of the "Woman's Picture," a territory both he and Moore would reapproach in Far From Heaven. But where that film was a meticulously exact homage to the Technicolor melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk in the 1950s (particularly, All that Heaven Allows), Safe fuses the domestic melodrama with horror and sci-fi stylistics—many critics compared it to 2001: A Space Odyssey in its long-take, long-shot austerity. Consequently, Haynes created a unique genre mongrel.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Safe (1995 film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools