Film Review Archive

 

Far From Heaven
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

When was the last time you were told to "wash your teeth" ?
If you were a story teller, how far would you go to tell your story?
What were the fifties really like?

These were a few of the questions I left the theatre with after watching Todd Haynes’ latest movie – Far From Heaven. It’s a very unusual and a very ambitious film. Ultimately, I’m not sure it works, but if it doesn’t, it’s surely a noble failure. In either case, I recommend it to you. I found it fascinating. It’s visually stunning. Almost every frame is perfect, plu perfect, even too perfect. In fact, almost everything about this film is a degree or two over the top.

I have a friend who is given to cliches. He’s extraordinarily bright and though his conversation is studded with phrases and idioms that would sound stale coming from most of us, when he speaks, it’s as if he’d coined them himself. With the power of his imagination and his natural narrative skills, my friend rejuvenates the hackneyed. I mention this because Todd Haynes has done something similar in Far From Heaven. With a few very significant exceptions, the entire script is constructed of cliches.

The movie is set in Hartford, Connecticut, in the closing months of 1957. We swoop into the lives of the Whitaker family, an American success story. Father Frank is a prosperous executive. Mother Cathy is the perfect wife and responsible mother of two adorable children. Their house is in the suburbs. It’s big, well appointed and very orderly. The Whitakers have a maid and a gardener, both of whom are black. And the Whitakers are members of the NAACP.

This is the ‘American dream’, the life we’re all supposed to want, the one we’re entitled to if we work hard and play by the rules. If this isn’t paradise, how ‘far from heaven’ can it be? Well, as you might guess, Todd Haynes shows us.

This is a story about surfaces, about the illusion of appearances, about how thin the ice really is. It’s a story about racism and repression and sexuality and denial. It’s a story about the pressure to conform.

Because Haynes’ narrative technique is so original, I think I’d be doing you a disservice to reveal any of the details of the plot. Instead, I’ll close with a few lines from one of my favorite poets, Wallace Stevens.

Stevens was an extraordinary man who lived a rather ordinary life in the Whitaker’s home town of Hartford, Connecticut. He was an insurance executive by day, a poet by night. He died in 1955, two years before the events in Far From Heaven unfold.

These are the first two lines from his poem "The Well Dressed Man With A Beard": After the final no there comes a yes. And on that yes the future world depends. Far From Heaven is a film worthy of several viewings and I urge you not to miss it.

Far From Heaven opens this weekend at The Nickelodeon Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz. For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.