Safe (1994, Julianne Moore, Xander Berkley)


Writer-director Todd Haynes’ second feature Safe is the story of the destruction of a suburban housewife’s perfect life when she is attacked by environmental sickness. Starring JULIANNE MOORE, XANDER BERKLEY and KATE MacGREGOR, the film was described by The Independent as “Mysterious and beautiful and the most astounding American film of the year” and by The Guardian as “Exceptional both in style and content”.

What if every object that filled the ordinary landscape of your daily life – your bed, your toothbrush, your cologne, your clothes – began to turn, slowly and incomprehensibly, into a potential weapon, a treat to the very structure of your identity. Safe tells the story of a Los Angeles wife and mother (Moore) whose comfortable existence falls apart when her world takes just such a turn and she learns that she, like thousands of other primarily suburban women, has become environmentally ill.

Set in the stark, simulated landscape of the wealthy San Fernando Valley, Safe introduces Carol White through a series of seeming non-events: the delivery of a new couch, the re-staining of the kitchen cabinets, starting a fruit diet with a friend. But each of these small events is underscored with a growing awareness of a faceless danger threatening her existence. Commonplace foods, fragrances and fumes begin affecting her in extreme, violent ways until Carol finds she can barely leave her house without suffering from breathless attacks, nausea or spontaneous bleeding.

Ultimately Carol will discover the source of her illness and reach out for safety from the world which has suddenly turned against her. That search will lead her into a strange desert community and an encounter with a dark continent of emotions she never knew existed.

Safe is a film about danger that communicates through the objects and affections of our daily lives, to reveal the dangerous and misleading ways in which our identities are constructed. In the course of her struggle to regain physical immunity, Carol is led unwittingly to confront the emotional void protected within her. Many of the answers she finds along the way are far more ‘dangerous’ than any of the threats she faces from her illness. The film’s style will reflect the restrained subjective and emotional life that has rendered Carol White’s existence a world of empty routine and latent catastrophe.

After winning Best Experimental Short at the USA Film Festival among other awards for Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Haynes’ cult classic was then banned by Karen’s brother Richard. Haynes’ first feature, Poison, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize. Most recently he directed the ’70s glam rock film Velvet Goldmine, a FilmFour Production that will be premiered on FilmFour next month.

USA / 1994

Director and Writer: Todd Haynes

Cast: Julianne Moore, Xander Berkley, Kate Macgregor