Far From Heaven

Director: Todd Haynes.
Screenplay: Todd Haynes.
Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn, Celia Weston, Bette Henritze, Michael Gaston, Ryan Ward, Lindsay Andretta, Jordan Elizabeth, Matt Malloy, June Squibb.

“I’ve learned my lesson about mixing in other worlds. I’ve seen the sparks fly. All kinds”

Todd Haynes has often been an experimental director throughout his career. He tackled the Glam Rock era with the dazzling, if mid-judged, Velvet Goldmine and had 6 different actors portray various phases of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. Most recently his adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Carol made many critics and viewers’ lists for the best film of 2015. Despite his creative ambitions, however, he’s never really been recognised in terms of awards. The only Oscar nomination he has received was, in fact, an Original Screenplay one for this film. I’ve yet to see Carol (which apparently shares similarities with this) but so far, Far From Heaven is Haynes’ masterpiece.
Connecticut in 1957 finds Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid) as the seemingly perfect couple at the heart of their community. Frank has a secret, though, and when Cathy discovers his double life, she begins a friendship with her black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). But such behaviours soon invite the unwanted attention and scorn of their so-called friends and neighbours.As soon as this film opens, you are instantly struck by Elmer Bernstein’s evocative score and a colourful palette that just radiates from the screen. It doesn’t take long to realise that Haynes is paying homage to the film’s of the 1950’s. Douglas Sirk is a particular director that Haynes is emulating and recreating his melodramatic soap opera’s like Imitation of Life or All That Heaven Allows is so convincing that you’d be forgiven for questioning whether or not you’re watching a contemporary film. There’s an intoxicating attention to detail whereby Haynes puts so much care into this film that you’re transported back the 50’s era. His efforts are so meticulous and refined that Far From Heaven is nothing less than a stunningly crafted piece of cinema. Peter Rogness’ art design and Mark Friedberg’s production design are simply splendid and the lavish costumes by Sandy Powell change throughout the film to suit the seasonal changes in the plot. All of this is perfectly framed by Edward Lachman’s stunning cinematography. His use of light and vibrant, oversaturated colours keep in tune with the bold use of technicolor from Sirk’s melodrama’s and is absolutely exquisite work.Haynes’ intention is to capture the nuclear, corporate family living the dream of white picket fence America and he does so with a confidence and hugely creative eye. Despite his accomplished recreation of the times, however, Haynes chooses an entirely different direction for his narrative. What sets his film apart from the style of Douglas Sirk is that Sirk’s films were all very conservative, whereas Haynes’ perfect suburbia is shattered by very personal problems that would have been taboo and risqué by any standards during the 50’s. Society, in Haynes’ world, is full of casual racists and homophobes who view homosexuality as an illness and being kind to Negros socially unacceptable. The underrated Patricia Clarkson is the perfect embodiment for the judgmental rottenness that permeates the neighbourhood. She epitomises the very people of society that the three, inherently decent, principal characters of Quaid, Haysbert and Moore are up against. With the facade of some and anguish of others, it cuts across so many divides: gender, race, class, sexual orientation but although it’s about several different levels of oppression it’s, at it’s heart, a story about the oppression of women. Ultimately, this is about a woman’s place at this time; how tolerant they were expected to be and how keeping up appearances was at the forefront of their place within a fractured, consumerist environment.

With his experimental evocation, Haynes could easily fall prey to pretension but for as much style as the film has, it has content to match. Simply speaking, it’s a work of art.Mark Walker

Trivia: Julianne Moore’s role was written with her specifically in mind while Dennis Quaid’s role was written for James Gandolfini, but he was too busy with The Sopranos.

23 Responses to “Far From Heaven”

  1. Wow some of those images you include are stunning. The colors just pop. The cinematography in Carol is just as beautiful albeit a bit more subdued. I wasn’t as high on Carol as many were but in no way did I see it as an average film. Haynes is a very perceptive and ultimately sympathetic director, a strong voice for women in society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ive been desperate to get around to Carol, man. That’s the very reason I decided to look back at Far From Heaven first. This is a superb piece of filmmaking. Those images only give you a glimpse of how beautifully it’s all arranged. I reckon I’ll like Carol but this is a hard one to beat for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am ashamed to admit I haven’t seen this movie, which is bad because I love Julianne Moore. And as Tom said above, some of those images are really striking.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A wonderful film sadly overlooked when it came out. Mark, a fine review–love the colors you pointed out. It’s a quiet film about the frustrations of the 50s. I lump it in my mind with Revolutionary Road and FFH is far better. Isn’t Moore wonderful?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to hear you’re a fellow fan, Cindy. It’s such a stunning film isn’t it?! I was a huge admirer of Revolutionary Road but Far From Heaven has become a new personal favourite. Moore, was indeed, wonderful. Thoroughly deserving of her Oscar nomination.

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  4. Wow the colours in those images are stunning! I haven’t seen a film by Haynes, I’ll probably go see Carol soon but I’ll have to add this one to The List

    Liked by 1 person

    • Imagine the whole film with such gorgeous images as this, Jordan. It’s like a beautiful oil painting and Haynes’ attention to detail really is something else. Great film.

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  5. Excellent review! I have never seen this, but it would appear that that needs correcting IMMEDIATELY!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a beautiful film and a nice precursor to Carol. Haynes is a master at period dramas, especially those set in 50s Americana.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice review mate, enjoyed reading that. I’ve seen a few of Haynes’ films over the years but to my shame I haven’t seen this or the Mildred Pierce miniseries. I should get round to them both at some point.
    Carol was one of my favourite films last year – personally I’d have had it down for 4 or 5 Oscars at least…I think it was streets ahead of most of the nominees in the categories it did get nominated for and streets ahead in those which, bizarrely, it didn’t get nominated for. Ah, whatever, same old same old!
    By the way, I’ve been getting into the old Tom Waits. Every album a winner so far.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know you thought highly of Carol, mate. Your praise for it sounds similar to my praise for this one. Far From Heaven is near flawless for me.
      Just got my hands on Mildred Pierce the other day but just need to find the time to work through it. It looks great and Carol is at the top of my watchlist at the moment.

      So, the old Tomcat is working his magic for you is he? It always warms my heart when I hear that someone is exploring more of Waits’ stuff. The man’s an absolute poet! No mistake!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, he’s pretty damn cool. Always liked him as an actor, so it’s good to finally check his music out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t normally think that singers make good actors. Bowie, Jagger, Sting and Dylan are woefully bad but Waits is genuinely very good. I think it’s because he likes to be a bit of a showman on stage. He done a film (or live show) for his album Big Time and I’m looking to catching that. It’s pretty rare though and never been released on DVD. I think you tube have a bad copy floating about.

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      • I like Jagger in Performance, but then he’s pretty much playing himself there, so it’s hardly a stretch! Sting is the worst, man. He can keep his music and he can keep his 24-hr tantric sessions with his missus, too. Bellboy!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. […] has written about Far From Heaven, introducing me to Todd Haynes for the first […]

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  9. Safe, Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There, Carol – Todd Haynes is such a visual filmmaker. Far from Heaven is one of his best. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mark. As you can see, I’m a huge fan of this film. I seen it many moons ago but on a recent revisit it was even better than I remembered. I really must get around to Carol now.

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