Article: Jack Foley
Creating a Fifties-era melodrama today and playing it straight,
smack in the midst of this pumped-up, adrenaline-crazed era, might
seem like a perplexing impulse. Yet the strongest melodramas are
those without apparent villains, where characters end up hurting
each other unwittingly, just by pursuing their desires.
To impose upon the seeming innocence of the 1950s themes as mutually
volatile as race and sexuality is to reveal how volatile those
subjects remain today - and how much our current climate of complacent
stability has in common with that bygone era - Director's statement,
from Todd Haynes.
Far From Heaven explores several social themes: racism, homosexuality,
and the role of women in families. In making the film set in the
1950s, Haynes notes he 'was very aware of the sense of superiority
that we all feel about the '50s because, in some ways, the decade
has been reduced to a series of cliches around suburban, conservative
"It's shocking to think that the same year that Marilyn
Monroe was at her peak, Joan Baez released her first album and
was an instant sensation," he continues. "Those two
examples of femininity that we now put into such separate categories
existed at the same time.
"So there are all kinds of contradictions to the idea that
the '50s was just one thing. It's exciting to use some of those
expectations as a way of disarming the audience a little bit for
Far From Heaven."
The theme of maternal sacrifice, which runs throughout the film,
is also central to many of the greatest Hollywood melodramas,
from King Vidor's Stella Dallas, to Douglas Sirk's Imitation of
In Far From Heaven, the character of Cathy (played by Julianne
Moore) shows how much women were forced to give up to sacrifice
to their family, while the men ultimately move on in search of
Continues Haynes: "Sadly, it's at the point where she gives
up, gives up her desires or hope for satisfaction, that she gains
He adds: "We're also still struggling with racism to an
incredible degree. People are still grappling with their sexuality,
even in a world that offers positive alternatives all over the
place. Racial and sexual orientation are still ingrained as conflicts
in our culture - they're still very pertinent."
It is a point with which Moore agrees, saying: "In this
film, there are issues of bigotry and prejudice, but this is ultimately
Todd's most feminist movie. His point is that here might be sexual
differences and cultural differences and racial differences, but
the first and most important difference is determined at birth
- whether you're a boy or a girl.
"Everything in Cathy's life is defined by her very femaleness.
As much as the men in the film are going through all these things,
they're the ones who manage to go on. Cathy is the one left behind,
because she is female."
Like Haynes, Moore genuinely believes that the story in the film
is not dated and completely relevant to our modern lives. She
explains: "Although people are kind of loath to say it, I
think that there is a way that we publicly live our lives.
"In Far From Heaven, you see people being forced into certain
social situations and having to behave in a particular way because
of the place they're in and the people they're speaking to. But
then there are the private moments, where they reveal other things.
As an actor, it's a wonderful thing to do, to be able to do both
the public and the private in the same film."
Another central theme of the movie is sexuality, especially homosexuality,
and people's attitudes towards it. As Haynes points out...
"At the time, homosexuality was considered an illness. Even
in the most civil and well-educated circles, that was considered
the tolerant way of looking at the condition.
"Yet, when I did research on homosexuality and its treatment
at that particular time, I was surprised. You think of the '50s,
you assume shock treatment and all of those horrific, panicky
things because we think of the '50s as so patently repressive.
"In fact, there were breakthroughs in the late '40s and
in some writings, doctors were saying that this was not a sickness
and that you really can't change it. So it was actually more progressive
than I thought.
"But I feel that for someone like Frank [played by Dennis
Quaid in the film], there are no examples around him of any positive
way to look to, to be, to live, to exist in this moat. So the
only way for him to get through the day was to decide he was going
to fix it: there must be a way to stitch it up and let it heal,
or take a medicine or whatever, and that's the way he approached
it. But that doesn't work, and it shouldn't and it can't."
The final theme of the movie was race and racism, as explored
in the burgeoning relationship between Cathy and her African-American
gardener, Raymond, played by 24's Dennis Haysbert.
As Haysbert notes: "Raymond is a good man born at the wrong
time. He and Cathy live in a time where they just don't fit in
with what people perceive to be normal.
"They're two people caught in this world and they're not
going to be able to be together because they have too many people
close to them that will be hurt. So they sacrifice....
"...This is probably the film I've done that I'm most proud
of," he continues. "It's a very interesting period for
me to portray. It's so uncomfortable in a lot of ways. People
can't seem to get beyond the colour of Raymond's skin. But, in
trying to act on his sensibilities, he gets it from both sides:
the people of colour as well as their white counterparts. It's
pretty balanced among unbalanced ways of thinking.
"Raymond represents, for Cathy, a possible liberation from
her life and her fate. Raymond represents integrity, but he's
flawed too. He believes, too much, that the white world and the
black world can co-exist. He encourages his 11-year-old daughter,
Sarah, to interact with white culture and then they're both punished."
So with all this in mind, what is it that the makers of the film
hope to achieve? What is the Far From Heaven effect meant to be?
Haysbert comments: "What I would hope for is that when people
watch Far From Heaven, they'll look back over their lives and
see opportunities they've missed and say, 'I'm never going to
let this happen again.
"The next time I find love, no matter who it is, no matter
what the colour or size or religion or whatever, I'm going to
go for it'. If someone can walk out of the theatre with that in
mind, then we will have succeeded."
When asked how he hopes people will respond to the film, Haynes
adds: "With tears, tears of recognition - where the heightened
stylistic experience only clarifies how much, in this all-too-human
story, we recognise ourselves."