Carol White (Julianne Moore) is a mousy housewife living the affluent life in the San Fernando Valley when, over the span of a few months, she begins to develop debilitating sensitivities to her environment. A permanent at... more » the hair salon makes her nose bleed and her skin go bad, exhaust from a truck causes her to cough violently, she's allergic to the new couch, goes into seizures at the dry cleaner's. No one understands or credits her condition, least of all her husband or family physician. But the symptoms worsen, and Carol eventually discovers others who suffer from similar environmental illnesses. She checks into a desert spa that caters to those in her predicament, and the staff regales her with touchy-feely, infomercial-style affirmations. All of this could have been broad satire, but director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) opts for a filming style that captures the empty elegance of Carol's passive lifestyle and looks on with clinical dispassion, so that you can hear the oppressive quiet surrounding her. It's positively eerie, so you know you're not watching just a worthy cause picture or movie of the week. Haynes has more ambition than that, even going so far as to insert a slight buzzing sound in the soundtrack to accentuate the unease. Fluorescent lights? Power lines? Who knows? Maybe it's safe to call it the ominous rumblings beneath the surface of Carol's life, from antiseptic affluence to septic isolation in the spa environment. A model of sustained tone, boasting one of the most remarkable performances by Julianne Moore, from a whole career of remarkable performances. --Jim Gay« less
My wife, who is environmentally ill, was technical advisor
Arther Montandon | USA | 04/30/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My wife whose name is "Carol" the name of the main character (She goes by Lynn and is listed in the credits) got environmentally ill and almost died in the 1980's before anyone even knew what this illness was. She survived by going through a controversial program created by a doctor whose whole famiily was poisoned by a chemical spill. She remained chemically sensitive and started a non profit organization to help people like herself. Todd Haynes came to our house to go over the script to this movie to get imput from her and a Doctor she worked with who treated victims of this medical problem. She even obtained a lot of the furniture an other items used in the movie. We think the movie was well done and accurate but for the ending. We know it is not a documentary but wanted to say to all who see this movie that the people with environmental illness are not crazy and that the healer type of therapy depicted in the movie is not the cure. There are many resources now to help and this is a recognized disability caused by an accute or long term exposure to toxic chemicals which prevades all of our modern lives daily."
Beautifully subtle and poignant
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 12/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is probably director Todd Haynes's least-known film, and probably his masterpiece. Like JEANNE DIEHLMANN..., the Chantal Ackerman which inspired it, SAFE moves at an incredibly slow pace for its first half to take you into the dreamlike world of its protagonist, a beautiful Los Angeles housewife with almost nothing to do. As you become accustomed to her rhythms, her mounting attacks from (what she believes to be) environmental hazards assume the dimensions of major catastrophes. There is a sequence where Julianne Moore goes into one of these attacks at a shower for a friend--while holding a child on her lap--that is one of the most horrifying scenes I've ever seen in a film, even though it culminates in little more than a nosebleed.Is the heroine simply hysterical? Are there real environmental poisons at work devastating her body? Or is she reacting against a world that seems to have no place for her even while it pretends to value her highly for her beauty and her wealth? The film offers no easy answers, although it moves to a conclusion of the heroine at a dinner party (and then before a mirror) that will absolutely break your heart. Moore's performance may be the single best before a camera in the Nineties--she's really that good."
Complex, Ambiguous, Unsafe
Wanda B. Red | Boston, MA | 05/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Julianne Moore is magnificent in this careful and slow-moving film. The focus of almost every scene -- unusual for a female role -- she never monopolizes the screen. She even lets the furniture compete with her for attention. She thus captures the dislocation and marginalization of the wraithlike housewife "Carol" (or, as she corrects herself to her psychiatrist, "homemaker"), whose life seems central to nobody, even to herself. Although Xander Berkeley plays her sometimes frustrated husband with immense sensitivity, the sex scene between the two, very close to the beginning of the film, makes the act horrifyingly mechanical and manages to show how even the greatest intimacy can be deeply alienating. At the same time, the film is restrained; its ironies are offered so complexly that one is unsure of the point of view.
After Carol becomes seriously ill from exposure to an environment that is increasingly toxic to her, she takes refuge in Wrenwood, a holistic healing camp in the desert. The film remains uncommitted as to what part of Carol's illness is genuinely physical and what part is psychological. The philosophy offered at Wrenwood is also ambiguous, though it remains clear that the sympathy of the film is no more with New Age therapy than it was with the alienating sterility of Carol's lifestyle back in the San Fernando Valley. The film maintains this difficult balance right up to the devastating final scene.
This is not a film that was written to please the Chemical Sensitivity Movement. To read it as a political movie is a mistake."
Stringy | Carlisle, WA Australia | 02/13/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This isn't a movie where the heroine struggles against all odds to triumph over her illness as the audience learns facts about it. It's a bleak look at how society fails those who are different or have a problem, then tells them it's their own fault and if they would just do some positive thinking then they'll be fine.
Carol's illness is real, and serves as a metaphor for her alienation from society. Our modern world makes her sick on many levels, but no-one will help her, only blame her. I don't think the movie is as ambiguous as some claim: it's clear that we're meant to sympathise with Carol, and not with her bored husband, uncaring doctor, and greedy self-help guru. If we admit that Carol is really sick, then what does that say about the world we live in?
Kubrick fans won't mind the slow pace; fans of dark satire will enjoy Hayne's harsh take on modern life and self-help cults."
About a REAL PHYSICAL ILLNESS-MULTIPLE CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY
No Stone Left Unturned | Michigan, USA | 12/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although this movie abounds with symbolism about the bloated materialism of Western society, and its effect on desensitizing(in this case sensitizing)people, this is really a finely drawn portrait of the onset of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity(MCS)- a very real illness- brought on by the disconnecting of the body's enzyme systems,loss of detoxification signalling in the brain, damage to DNA, and brain intoxication, from overexposure to the proliferation of common manufactured chemicals, at average levels of exposure, over time. Some of the causitive agents are shown in the movie- magic markers, vehicle exhaust fumes, new houses(with their formaldehyde, glues, paints, carpets, furniture), household cleaners, and fragrances(most colognes contain formaldehyde). Julianne Moore becomes progressively intoxicated(poisoned), as she encounters average manufactured products of the 20th century. This is called the "spreading factor" and often a person becomes more and more debilitated by typical daily exposures to many different common things. MCS is difficult to diagnose. There is no cure for this chronic disabling disease, and the sick person must be isolated and avoid contact with the substances. In dear America, especially out West, there are caravans of MCS sufferers traveling in small groups, trying to be as far from civilization as possible-they are on the edge of life, can only be near porcelain and stainless steel. Doctors, dentists, bus drivers, roofers, nurses, artists,etc......New Mexico declared a state of emergency for help for MCS victims. This is a great movie which shows a life familiar to some. Gulf War veterans validated this illness,(which some doctors still do not understand and pass off as Depression), because thousands returned with MCS acquired from Sarin gas and burning oil fields. Reviewers who think it is about a psychological illness and comparisons to institutionalization- are flat wrong! If you have MCS- I recommend viewing this with family and friends to help educate them about your illness- the bizarre problems of MCS often lead to disbelief and lack of support, because it is not as easy to relate to as Cancer or Diabetes . There is a tremendous proliferation of toxic chemicals in our world, and their effects on living beings have been poorly evaluated. I am an expert on MCS."