Far From Heaven


Directed by: Todd Haynes
Written by:Todd Haynes
Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson
Released: February 6, 2003
Grade: A

As the Autumn leaves fall in this beautiful Connecticut community, Cathy Whitaker (Moore) continues to live her dream life.  She’s married to Frank Whitaker (Quaid), a highly respected and very successful salesman.  They have two studious children - David, who loves playing junior football, and Janice, who loves learning ballet.  Together, they live in a spacious, well-furbished home with a devoted maid and a regular gardener to tend to the beautiful gardens.  A reporter has just written a glowing article on Mrs. Whitaker in the local social magazine to make public to all, the great qualities she exudes as a person.

With everything in place, writer/director Todd Haynes then proceeds to show the simplicity in which society can destroy a perfect family.  Cathy, being the devoted wife, drives into town to deliver her hardworking husband a warm dinner.  Instead, she finds him passionately kissing another man.  In an era where homosexuality was deeply repressed, Cathy and Frank go to a doctor where he can begin treatment to cure this disease.  All was kept secret to protect Frank’s reputation but for Cathy, the revelation was setting in and there was no where for her to turn.  The marriage she had poured her soul into, was a facade.

At the same time, a new African-American gardener had began servicing the home.  The previous gardener had passed away and his son, Raymond Deagon (Haysbert), had taken responsibility for the family business.  Against the community’s general consensus, Cathy was a softly-spoken advocate of the rights of “coloured people” and had no qualms taking the time to talk with Raymond.  She learns he has an 11-year-old daughter and a college education.  He’s a decent, intelligent man and the two find comfort in each other’s conversations.

By chance, they run into each other at an art exhibition.  As they jointly look over the artworks, those around them focus their attention on the obscene sight of a black and white person fraternising together.  Soon, the whole community is spreading rumours of their friendship and speculating how deeply it runs.  The gossip builds and Cathy finds herself ostracised by all.  Frank too is furious.  Cathy’s life has disintegrated through no fault of her own.

Ultimately, it’s a very sad story told with brutal realism.  There are no shock twists, no quirky side characters, no anything else coming from commercialised Hollywood.  We watch the pressure mount on Cathy as she battles, with no one else to turn to, to keep her dream afloat.  Writer/director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) uses the repression of two minority groups (homosexuals and African-Americans) to contrast the differing levels of discrimination.  Cathy is unafraid to hide her equal feeling for coloured people and is persecuted for it, even by her own husband.  However, Frank keeps hidden his feelings on homosexuality and in doing so, keeps the respect of others.

Director Todd Haynes has created a film that not only is set in 1957 but also looks as if it was filmed in 1957.  The setting, the costumes, the acting are all spot-on in their depiction of the era.  Julianne Moore is wonderful as her character struggles to hold her composure.  Cinematographer Edward Lachman (The Virgin Suicides, Erin Brokovich) captures the colours and elements of the time with amazing beauty.  Haynes doesn’t rush the story nor does he let his characters overact.  It’s his own personal tribute to his favourite films of the era.  Such is rarely seen these days.