...the suburban culture of 1957 in the bright colors of exaggerated perfection


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

Writer/director Todd Haynes has turned the complex premise of “Far From Heaven” into a powerful movie.   Haynes paints the landscape and suburban culture of 1957 in the bright colors of exaggerated perfection and then hurls a time bomb back more than four decades.  He tells his story with subject matter and content from today in the style of that earlier time when the subjects he addresses were literally unspeakable.  He addresses explosive issues that have worked their way through decades of cultural change to emerge finally into acceptance – of a sort. 

                The characters, residents of perfect post war married life outside Hartford, move gingerly across the thin crusted surface of life, looking for a way to break through to take root, but the code of the ‘50s is right there, rock solid, to stop any footfall that dares crack the crust.  

                Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore), social and civic pillar of the community, lives here with her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid), a successful sales executive.  The mechanics of their lives are tended to by Sybil (Viola Davis), the black maid who makes things work while Cathy floats through her civic day in high heels and crinolined skirts.  The garden is tended by Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), a kind black man with a business degree, perfect clothes, and great dignity. 

                The women’s clothes are searing in their symbolism.  Everything is tight, belted, cinched; movement is defined by how much one can do in high heels and silk, and it’s worn all day, changed in the evening for another set in taffeta for dinner at home.  Dark red lipstick, fur stoles, elbow gloves, big bright cars with tailfins.  Life is good. 

                At the office, Frank still cheerleads his sales team.  He also discovers that the homosexuality he has felt for years is real, and he pursues it.  Frank’s wracking confession to Cathy is heartbreaking.  He is a good man facing the consequences of his time:  being fired, becoming the focus of gossip, losing his family. 

The community might have supported Cathy, but she has become involved in an inter-racial friendship with Raymond.  Cathy and Frank and Raymond have each reached for the unspeakable.  Homosexuality and mixed race couples were unforgivable transgressions in the suburbs of 1957.  The personal decency of the three counts for nothing as the community code encircles them and squeezes the wind from their lungs. 

In a tough acting assignment, everyone comes through - especially Dennis Quaid who must show us the real toll of suppression.  Julianne Moore is masterful with the woman’s one note melody:  whatever goes wrong, bury it.  She aces the liberal white woman’s view of how a white envisions a motivated black man, and Dennis Haysbert, in response, turns the tables on her gracefully.  The bombshell thrown back in time landed in the golden October light of 1957 and cracked the surface of the carefully constructed lives of some very decent but miserably unhappy people.


Copyright (c) Illusion

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