Director: Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes’s first feature since his acclaimed Poison, Safe is a highly original variation on the sickness movie that poses some intriguing questions about modern phenomena such as environmental sickness and New Age philosophies. The excellent Julianne Moore (Vanya on 42nd Street) plays Carol White, a wealthy Californian ‘home-maker’ who is beginning to grow tired of her carefully circumscribed existence. She develops a mystery illness which is agitated by contact with everyday chemicals, and doctors can find no physical cause for her seemingly inexplicable allergies. At a loss, Carol eventually retreats form her insular life into an even more confined cocoon by checking into the Wrenwood Healing Centre, a bizarre New Age retreat. The regime at Wrenwood is even more restrictive, and although she is offered some smug theories about her illness, the hapless Carol fails to find a cure.
Haynes’s coolly detached approach had the disquieting effect of raising all manner of issues without ever providing any answers. Some critics have suggested that the mystery illness is a metaphor for AIDS, but that is far too reductive. The film seems more concerned with wider contemporary fears and anxieties and is highly ambivalent in its attitude both to the complacent materialism of its heroine and to the selfish individualism promoted by the New Agers. Safe evokes widely different responses for its audience as it flits between black comedy, ironic drama and mystery. It’s a cool, carefully composed and unsettling movie, with Moore’s superb central performance holding one’s interest from the beginning to end.

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