Combustible Celluloid
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With: Julianne Moore, Peter Friedman, Xander Berkeley, Susan Norman, Kate McGregor Stewart, Mary Carver, Steven Gilborn, April Grace, Peter Crombie, Ronnie Farer, Jodie Markell, Lorna Scott, James LeGros
Written by: Todd Haynes
Directed by: Todd Haynes
MPAA Rating: R for a sex scene and brief language
Running Time: 119
Date: 01/01/1995

Safe (1995)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Life Sick

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Safe is an American masterpiece depicting an average housewife (Julianne Moore, in a great perforamance) who develops an allergy to all kinds of everyday chemicals and must be shuttled out to a New Mexico detox camp. Writer/director Todd Haynes treats the material with a subtle touch, allowing the horror of the situation to creep through and playing on the cult-like behavior of the cure-all compound. Though the film had a miniscule budget, it looks outstanding with its dull, muted colors and godawful lite-rock soundtrack. It was voted in the Village Voice's poll as the best picture of the 1990s, and with good reason.

Even before Carol White becomes sick, we feel ill at her surroundings; the music is enough to make us feel woozy; the worst, sugariest pop garbage from the late '80s. Moore herself gives a great performance with not much to work with. She is someone who doesn't have a goal or a purpose in life. She is married to a man who has a child from a former marraige. She enjoys walks in her garden. She is a woman who doesn't "want" anything. Even when she gets sick, the movie doesn't show her "wanting" to get well. The cinematography is exactly what the film calls for, very stark and unfriendly. He doesn't let you relax for a second.

The movie takes a turn when it gets to the "safe" camp where Moore will stay to try and get "better." It's run by an evangelist-like writer (Peter Friedman) who leads people in gospel-like meetings and folky ballads. The movie doesn't make this place out to be good or bad. It's just there. The audience has to decide. We even have to decide what it was that made Moore sick in the first place. Was it really her environment, or did she secretly do it to herself? So what we get is a strong emotional experience, and a painful one. No easy answers here.

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