Smoke and mirrors
Todd Haynes’ 2002 film ‘Far From Heaven‘ was a masterpiece of subtle subversion that paid homage to the richly coloured 1950s film style (and specifically the ‘women’s pictures’ of Douglas Sirk and his contemporaries). What could have been hollow pastiche is in fact a thoughtful and moving examination of US social pretences in the 50s. Such a visually arresting style – the colours are saturated to a degree that exceeds even that of the filmmaking period – is appropriate for a film about keeping up appearances at a time of deep social conservatism. Like the ‘smoke and mirrors’ Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is teased of employing to maintain her beauty by her closeted gay husband Frank (Dennis Quaid), the film plays with the notion of superficial stylishness.
As vivid as a William Eggleston photograph, ‘Far From Heaven‘ could have easily been high on lovingly recreated (and rather esoteric) cinematography but low on substance. However, Todd Haynes has pulled off a double coup here, by creating a romantic melodrama to melt the most cynical of hearts while subverting the genre with ruminations on the hypocrisies at the heart of 1950s America. Thus we have a film that seduces and sedates its audience with a winsome, nostalgic atmosphere, but then confronts it with stark questions of civil rights, sex and family life. By making the viewer uncomfortable, ‘Far From Heaven‘ succeeds in exposing the hypocricies, not just of 1950s, but also of society today – which, as the title suggests, is far from perfect.