“I’ve learned my lesson about mixing in other worlds. I’ve seen the sparks fly… all kinds”. Writer/Director Todd Haynes crafts a beautiful and heart wrenching tale of Kathy, a 1950’s housewife who’s torn between her love for a colored man and the comfortable life of luxury her family has given her, in the 2002 film Far From Heaven.
From the outside, the Whitaker family appears as polished and good natured as any 1950s family can be. Frank played by Dennis Quaid appears to be the All-American man. He’s a successful salesman, has two loving children, and an adoring wife. Frank has it all, but Frank likes to drink, and has a long buried secret that must come out. Kathy, played by Julianne Moore is the modal 1950’s housewife. She dotes on Frank, hosts yearly parties with her best friend Eleanor, played by Patricia Clarkson, and is strict, yet kind to her two young children. Kathy is not happy however. Her marriage leaves her unfulfilled and alone, until she finds comfort in a person least expected.
What we soon learn in the film is not everything is as it seems. Frank, is a closeted homosexual, and an alcoholic. It’s implied that the sex life between Frank and Kathy is nonexistent as Frank seems unable to perform for his wife. The two seek medical help and Frank begins classes with a doctor to rid him of this ailment. In the meantime, Kathy strikes up a relationship with her gardener Raymond, played by Dennis Haysbert. The two of them enjoy each others company, and begin to become friends. That’s not well received by whites or coloreds and soon Kathy’s life begins to spiral down.
First of all I want to bring up the presentation of the film. This is set in the 1950’s and the film look, production, and presentation reflects that. What I mean is from the credits, to the lighting, to the dialogue, all of it represents what the film would look and sound like if it were made in the 1950s. The music is dated, the lighting is of its time and certainly the costume and production design reflect the time period. This feels like an Old Hollywood film, which is clearly the goal. What I particularly enjoy about this aspect is everything is hinted at, and nothing is explicit within the film. Whereas in most of today’s films, during a homosexual love seen between Frank and a lover, the two are shown kissing in the background and that’s it. Kathy witness the event and that’s all she needs to see. In today’s movie making style, she would have walked in during a sex scene or something of the like. In addition, Raymond and Kathy have an innocent friendship in the film. There are signs that show they care for each other, but it’s something you have to work for, it’s not explicitly stated. Also, they have a friendship and that’s all for the time frame. They don’t have an affair yet it doesn’t matter as the idea of the friendship is so taboo, nothing else is needed. It’s little touches like this that make this film so unique and so rewarding.
As I mentioned the dialogue and acting is also very much of its time. This can be something that puts off some viewers but I found it to be refreshing and expertly done. Julianne Moore is stunning in her role as Kathy. She shows such a wide range of emotions through this film yet is restrained enough, as a 50s housewife is thought to be, so that she only has one outburst in the film. It’s really tough to watch the downward spiral of her life in this film. Her husband is gay, her new would be lover is colored, and her friends begin distancing themselves from her because of what they imagine she’s done. Moore is able to handle all this pressure and keep a stiff upper lip. It’s a terrific role and so well executed. Julianne Moore is certainly one of the finest actresses of our time and she proves so again in this film.
Dennis Haysbert is solid at his role of Raymond. He isn’t too far off from the characters we’ve seen Haysbert play so well before. He’s a strong, silent man who flies in the face of convention and does the right thing, whether it’s the politically correct thing or not. This film was produced during the time in which Haysbert was playing President David Palmer on 24, his most well known role. I only wish there was more Dennis Haysbert in the movies and on television as I always seem to enjoy his performances no matter the quality of the film he’s in. Nominated for numerous awards, yet wining very few, Far From Heaven is an outstanding piece of work and should not be ignored.