It was a time when homosexuality was considered a treatable illness and gay bars
were anything but "gay." It was a time when white liberals bragged in public to
Negroes about their lack of prejudice and a time when "Geez!" was considered an
expletive that mothers wouldn't tolerate from their children. In short, it was
As writer/director Todd Haynes proved in his last picture, VELVET GOLDMINE, he
is a great visual stylist. In FAR FROM HEAVEN, with the stunning work of
cinematographer Edward Lachman, composer Elmer Bernstein and set designer Mark
Friedberg, the movie beautifully reconstructs not only the look but also the
feel of a 1950s drama. The picture's colorful lushness lets the film's
controversies go down easy like sweet flavor in medicine. The oblique approach
to difficult subject matter is exactly how an old movie would have had to deal
with homosexuality and racial prejudice. The suburban lifestyle in the movie
will immediately remind you of THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT from 1956. The
gorgeous cars in the picture look straight off of the showroom floor.
The story concerns an all-American family whose breadwinner, Frank Whitaker
(Dennis Quaid), is a hot-shot sales executive at Magnatech, which appears to be
a twist on the word Magnavox. A hard-driving alcoholic, Frank becomes
increasingly awkward, embarrassed and frightened after his wife discovers him in
flagrante with another man. Although he promptly signs up for "heterosexual
conversion therapy" to cure his "sickness," he doesn't appear confident that he
Frank's wife, Cathy, played brilliantly by Julianne Moore, stands by her man.
She stays perky and upbeat, even when the warning signs are patently obvious.
This is understandable since she is a social butterfly who has just been
featured in the local newspaper. The fluff piece about her calls her, "a woman
as devoted to her family as she is kind to Negroes." Since the movie is set in
the North, the white town leaders assume themselves and their town to be lacking
in both prejudice and blacks. This is especially ironic since black servants
are everywhere and completely ignored. Ignored, that is, until Cathy dares
strike up an innocent and casual friendship with one, which scandalizes the
Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), Cathy's gardener, is the unlucky man to have
her brief attention. This causes him no end of grief from both white and black
members of the community.
Sometimes it is in the smallest incidents that a movie says the most. In FAR
FROM HEAVEN, it comes when solicitors appear on Cathy's doorstep. They are
eager young volunteers from the NAACP looking to sign up new recruits. Cathy,
who loves to champion liberal causes, knows right away that she wants to join.
Since she is too busy, however, to be bothered with signing her name, she calls
out to her full-time black maid so that she can come and sign Cathy's name for
her. A very telling moment.
FAR FROM HEAVEN runs 1:47. It is rated PG-13 for "mature thematic elements,
sexual content, brief violence and language" and would be acceptable for
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes