My wife & I just had the good fortune to see Far from Heaven. It is a wondrous, but terribly, achingly sad film. Much has been written about the connections between this film & Douglas Sirk’s tearjerker melodramas of the 1950s. If I were to use shorthand, I’d say that while “Pleasantville” was a great satiric/parodic sendup of the period; Far from Heaven functions as a tragic/dramatic reflection on it.
What is interesting about Todd Haynes’ screenplay is that the dialogue & plot developments are not merely a reflection of the 1950s, they are an extreme or slavish parody of the period. In the characters language, you hear the exaggerated civility & stilted bonhommie that characterized the period (at least in our subsequent & reflected observations of it). Wives call their husband “darling” with a smile in one scene, while in the next scene they weep in despair as the same husband asks for a divorce because he comes to realize that he is a homosexual. Of course, this alienation & strangeness is just what Haynes was after to reflect the rigidity & social stratification of the era. But I found the “taking it to extremes” nature of the dialogue to be a bit precious or off-putting in places, even though I understood that the device was their for a good purpose.
In one telling scene, Dennis Haysbert & Julianne Moore’s character talk about their relationship in the context of their society’s fascination with “surfaces.” They say that their hope is that not everything has to be seen only for its surface. Sometimes, they hope, things can be seen from the inside & for what they really are. Of course, they are really talking about the race divide & whether whites & blacks can ever cross it either in everyday life or in romance.
By the end of the film, the answer is clearly no, as everything in Julianne Moore’s life–her family, her love of Haysbert’s character–has disintegrated before her very eyes and leaving her with nothing. By the way, Moore’s performance (as is true of almost everything she is in) is commanding & mesmerizing. She is truly a treasure. Randy Quaid has the thankless task of playing an unhappy, workaholic dad & husband who is a closet homosexual. Unfortunately, his character is merely a foil for Moore. His character is never really developed into a real human being with whom we can feel some empathy.
The final scene of her car leaving the Hartford train station as the camera pans a newly budded springtime apple tree; mirrors the opening scene in which the camera pans a flaming red fall maple tree. The ironic message is that the fall colors, which so beautifully mimic Moore’s beautiful costumes & the films other interiors portend the slow death that Moore’s character will suffer; while the spring blooms (symbolizing hope?) contradict the absolute hopelessness of Moore’s character & her future. So perhaps we can say that the spring blooms really reflect a hope that this horrible 1950s culture will gradually open up in coming years (even if not soon enough for Moore’s character)?