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Far From Heaven

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Far From Heaven

from Film Forum, 11/14/02

Far From Heaven stars Julianne Moore as a model housewife, according to 1957 standards, who discovers that her husband is an ashamed homosexual. She seeks solace in a relationship with a black friend. But this is as frowned on as homosexuality, and in the 1950s, many dealt with such difficult issues by pretending they did not exist. Writer-director Todd Haynes (Safe) pays tribute to filmmaker Douglas Sirk, famous for such 1950s favorites as All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life.

Gerri Pare (Catholic News) calls it "an exquisite melodrama of the kind Sirk did best – but bringing out themes that were not as openly addressed in the movies of a half-century ago. [Haynes] respects his characters as they come up against societal barriers, and in focusing on their humanity has crafted a wistful, even poignant tale that lingers in the memory. The filmmaker however allows us to look at that 1950s society not with condescension based on our more 'sophisticated' contemporary perspective, but in a thoughtful way that prompts us to consider and hopefully reject our own prejudices."

Phil Boatwright addresses the film's exploration of prejudice against homosexuals: "While I certainly do not condone homosexuality, this film reminds us that our contempt must be toward sin, not those struggling with sin. The Pharisees were consumed with the law, but they knew nothing of God's grace, compassion or willingness to forgive and embrace sinners."

Regarding the film as a whole, he raves, "The look is gorgeous. The performances are engrossing. The direction, although often a little too coy and sometimes bordering on camp, is leisurely paced. And I think as viewers leave the theater they will be thoughtful of a time when bigotry was so poisonous that if a black child even dared to step into a 'white' pool, it would send such shockwaves that the pool would be evacuated. While reminding us of that period, the film subtly suggests we continue to examine feelings concerning racial strife."

Movieguide's critic says, "Unless you like eating propaganda for dinner, avoid this movie altogether." The reviewer continues, "Haynes unfolds this politically correct, liberal storyline in the packaging of a classic melodrama, hoping to draw in viewers by the film's aesthetic qualities and lure them into a deeper agreement with his anti-Christian, Romantic worldview."

Mainstream critics are enthralled by Todd Haynes's mastery of period style and the subtle nuances of his storytelling. Anthony Lane (The New Yorker) is quite impressed by its convincing portrayal of 1957: "The music is right, the décor is right, the pitcher of Daiquiris is right … Every leaf on every tree has been personally schooled to redden and drop in the approved late-fifties manner. Everything from the crane shots to the genteel fades, as slow as twilight, shows a director hitting a new high in pastiche, and, if you are a film buff, Far from Heaven will be an all-body massage."

I'll share my thoughts on the film next week.

from Film Forum, 11/21/02

Film Forum posted early reviews of Far From Heavenlast week, but the film drew more praise and attention this week. It looks to be a major Oscar contender.

Far From Heaven pays homage to the films of Douglas Sirk in its exploration of 1950s mores. Most critics are talking about the way that Sirk hinted at repressed sexuality and social taboos in films like Imitation of Life and All That Time Allows.

Most modern moviegoers don't remember Sirk. They're more familiar with films and shows that emphasize the dysfunction behind the family photo. Thus, they'll be quick to pick up that nothing is as it seems. The only suspense lies in guessing what manner of monster will rear its ugly head.

In this case, there are a host of monsters. The community is rife with prejudice, sexual and racial. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) seems like the ideal wife and mother, with all her wishes granted. But her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is a closeted homosexual. Cathy herself, perpetually lonely behind that smile, suffers from spousal neglect, and thus finds it difficult to resist her attraction to the handsome, kind hearted black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert.) Repressed passions make the characters walking time bombs. Their friends, an array of smiling upper-class villains, keep busy sharpening their tongues for vicious gossip.

The result is an elaborately crafted film with a subtle but honorable agenda. Haynes seems uninterested in defending or condemning sexual preferences. He focuses instead on peeling back the façade of a trouble-free neighborhood to expose the problem of prejudice, the damage done by infidelity, and how those who show love and compassion for persecuted minorities will be persecuted themselves. The film is resonant with insight, but paints a bleak picture of a cold and lonely existence.

Ebert says the film is "like the best and bravest movie of 1957. Its themes, values and style faithfully reflect the social melodramas of the 1950s, but it's bolder, and says out loud what those films only hinted at."

My full review is at Looking Closer.

from Film Forum, 12/05/02Still Cooking

Far from Heaven continues to draw raves from mainstream critics for its award-worthy performance by Julianne Moore, its gorgeous cinematography, its re-creation of '50s movie conventions, and its story of racial and sexual prejudice. Religious press critics continue to find praiseworthy aspects of the film as well. This week, Darrel Manson (Hollywood Jesus) offers a rave review.

from Film Forum, 12/12/02Still Cooking

Far From Heaven found another fan in Roger Thomas (Ethics Daily), pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in Atlanta. Thomas writes, "Far From Heaven is glorious filmmaking and one of the best films of 2002. It offers stellar performances. … The cinematography is colorful and creative. The script is smart, and all the production elements … are Oscar worthy. … The damaging power of gossip is explored, as is racism. Certainly the film wants to remind us how horrible prejudice is. Ultimately, however, race issues in this film are a subplot to a greater message."

But Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) feels differently. "Haynes' Far From Heaven is the kind of cinematic offering that will usually leave critics glowing with praise while the average filmgoer stays rather cold with indifference. Artistically, Far From Heaven risks audience alienation by staying true to a genre (domestic melodrama) that is so stylized and dated that it serves to distance us from its characters rather than draw us closer. Still, the performances that Todd Haynes elicits from his cast are impressive."