FAR FROM HEAVEN
Review by Michael Jacobson
Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert
Director: Todd Haynes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: April 1, 2003
you, Raymond…for a lovely afternoon.”
YOU, Mrs. Whitaker. I’ve had one,
Whitaker' sounds so formal…would you…”
me to dance?”
From Heaven is
a film almost too heartachingly beautiful to put into words.
As someone who loves to write about movies, I don’t find many that
leave me struggling for the right adjectives to convey my thoughts.
When it happens, I’m usually both embarrassed and delighted.
So forgive the mediocrity of my efforts.
lot has been made about the film’s sense of style in recreating the lush
suburban landscapes of the great Douglas Sirk melodramas of the 1950s, and
rightly so. But that’s just the
surface…akin to admiring the metal used in the Statue of Liberty without
standing back to take in the whole picture.
movie is beautiful to look at, indeed…but even more beautiful to experience.
Whereas the Sirk pictures seemed to circumvent the real issues he wanted
to address, leaving them as subtle clues for the attentive, writer/director Todd
Haynes cuts through the haze of melodrama with an emotional purity.
The look and the feel may be homage to Sirk, but the undercurrent of
something terribly awry behind the scenes of suburban bliss is akin to Nicholas
is not a world of irony or cynicism. Haynes
re-creates the social fabric of 1950s life so perfectly that we don’t seem to
bring any of our modern sensibilities with us.
Here is a world where interracial romance is quite taboo, and
homosexuality even more so, and one woman who on the surface seems to be the
ideal suburban wife, mother and homemaker whose world is pulled apart by both.
woman is Cathy Whitaker (Moore, in a shining performance).
She is a lovely woman with a perfect house, terrific children, and
handsome husband named Frank (Quaid). Everything
about this home and family is so right that local publications even hold them up
as ideals for everyone to see.
Frank has a secret, which emerges as a devastating blow to Cathy when she
accidentally finds out. He is gay.
In a society where such an admission would be the ultimate in
humiliation, Frank has tried to live the “proper” life of husband and family
man…and has failed.
(or probably more accurately, hoping) it’s something that can be cured, he
begins to seek psychiatric help. Cathy,
in her trauma, is alone…it’s not something she can share with even her
she can share a bit with is the new gardener, Raymond (Haysbert).
Taking over jobs for his deceased father, Raymond is a remarkable
man…college educated, cultured, well spoken, and a widower raising a young
daughter on his own. He also
happens to be black.
few conversations here and there, at first around the home but eventually in
public, leads to gossip and troubles for both.
Their relationship is entirely innocent, at least in deed.
But the more time they spend together, the more it becomes clear to them
(and us) that what they’re beginning to feel goes much deeper.
a sad twist, it is Cathy who becomes the object of scorn, even at one point by
her husband, though for their time period, Frank is actually harboring the more
destructive secret. For all three,
it is a powerfully sad scenario in an era where there can be no happy endings
film invites you to love these characters, especially Cathy and Raymond, and
rewards you with a tremendous return on your emotional investment.
Todd Haynes walks a careful line by deliberately invoking melodrama
wrought from another time and place, but having the gumption to take it and his
characters seriously. We never feel the urge to snicker because these people are
facing problems with a society that is so different from our own.
Haynes reminds us that there was more than a cold shoulder or a whispered
word to be feared.
is an amazing cast in top form. Much
has been made about Julianne Moore’s stellar and Oscar nominated work in this
picture, so may I just add that she’s breathtaking from start to finish, and
earns every emotional moment for Cathy. But
I’d be remiss in not praising her male leads.
I’ve watched Dennis Quaid for many years now, and I can say without
reservation that this is his finest work as an actor, bringing the tormented and
torn Frank to pitiful life. And
Dennis Haysbert, who has earned fame on television’s 24, is perfect as
Raymond, injecting the character with warmth, dignity and intelligence.
a sense, you could say that Far From Heaven is possibly the picture that
Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray always wanted to make, but never could have in
their time in history. Todd
Haynes’ work is both a tribute to that style of filmmaking gone by and an
elevation of it, taking what was best and beautiful about one era and fleshing
it out with the unflinching truth about the human condition so prevalent in
has been made about the look of Far From Heaven, so it’s no fluke that
the DVD exceeds in the video department. With
a carefully constructed recreation of the old Technicolor visual style, this
anamorphic transfer is replete with bright, vivid colors that leap from the
screen. Like those 50s melodramas,
it’s a bit over the top, but undeniably gorgeous and rich in texture and
palate. Detail in the sets and art
direction bring out the best DVD has to offer…this is a good one.
treats of the audio are Haynes’ scripted words and Elmer Bernstein’s classic
score. Both come across with
fullness and integrity in your choice of Dolby Digital or DTS audio tracks.
Neither requires much, if any, from the subwoofer, and really only use
the rear stage to open up the music, but the listening experience is still a
pleasant one, whichever track you choose.
is fairly keen about being generous with features even without labeling a disc
as a “Collector’s Edition”. Far
From Heaven boasts a solid commentary track from Todd Haynes, in which he
discusses the development of the project, his inspirations, working with his
actors and more, plus a pair of good featurettes: “Anatomy of a Scene” from The Sundance Channel dissects
the work more closely, while a standard making-of featurette is a little broader
and promotional in feel.
out is a trailer, a preview for The Pianist at the beginning of the film,
production notes, and a live question and answer session with Julianne Moore and
Todd Haynes. A nice package all