November 23, 2002 [Far from Heaven]

Todd Haynes peers at Nature and recognizes that disease dogs freedom's steps, and that, once you know for sure that you have a disease, you feel a new, poisoned freedom, the kind that separates you from whatever everyone else is worried about and leaves you to nurse your new self, the one with the disease.  Like Marvell's grave, it's a private place, if not fine.

I felt that charge of doomed freedom in Poison--once my nausea subsided; lucky me I watched it at home; my gag reflex would've had nasty fun with popcorn and Milk Duds.  The things I could bear to watch seemed to plead their case as living proof, even as they sank in viscid horror.

--and once more in Safe, Julianne Moore as yet another woman striking out into the desert, this time in hope that the heat and sand will mummify her disease and free her.

But I wasn't sure what he would do with Douglas Sirk and All That Heaven Allows.  Surely Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul had already undressed that gorgeous old thing.  But Haynes decides not to take Sirk's movie apart but to dive clean into the cocktail party and demand that they tell the truth: that they are suffocating each other with candy-apple smiles and flattened eyes, poisoning every corner--the lurid greens and reds and blues of the movie seem to have barged straight past Technicolor and gone all the way to Italian horror films, Argento and Bava bloodfeasts in primary colors--until the Sirk picture, infiltrated and compromised, tells more truths, enough that Moore travels far from anything Jane Wyman might have hoped back then in the woods with our ambiguously unwell Rock Hudson.

The only refugee is Moore's almost-out-of-the-closet husband, the only one who wriggles out from under the rubble, escaping psychiatrist and shock treatment and simply leaving her for another man.  She had her gardener, briefly--and this time not just a gardener but a Negro! And they thought Little Rock was too much of an intrusion on the party; but she has to drive the station wagon back alone, Elmer Bernstein's score never quite a parody (the old hand is too good to make fun of himself here) but still leaning on her doom, pushing her with violins into a--should I write it?--gaily colored radioactive '50s desert where last Autumn's leaves stand just so in the vase in the empty house and the flowering dogwood watches as she disappears.


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