Forbidden love (Far from Heaven movie review)

Cathy (brilliant Julianne Moore) is a typical perfect housewife from the 50s – an embodiment of all stereotypes and common images of a decent woman: wearing pearls even when baking, sexually repressed, never speaking her mind (even when burning inside), always cheery (even if her heart is broken), caring more about her public image than internal happiness, and – last but not least – treating her husband (very good Dennis Quaid) like a king, literally. Her photo will appear on the cover of local magazine for housewives, because she is an example that others want to follow. “Far from Heaven”, directed by Todd Haynes, is a truly moving melodrama that at the same time uses schemes of a classical tearjerker, but on the other hand – composes them into an important dark tale about otherness as an category that is produced and then repressed by the normative authority.  The director manages to show how chauvinism, homophobia and racism influence each other and how they ruin human souls and minds and turn live of those who don’t belong to the normative – patriarchal, white, heterosexual – order into living hells.

Frank is a handsome, successful businessman and together with Cathy, who divides her time between raising children, maintaining a home and charity, they create a model family. The idyllic picture breaks, when the woman finds out that her husband has an affair with another man. The director manages to capture the schizophrenic nature of the society’s attitude to homosexuals – Cathy doesn’t treat Frank’s romance as an ordinary betrayal, but as symptom of a mental disease that should be treated by specialists. One of the most devastating and thrilling scenes of the entire movie is the one in which Frank goes to a psychiatrists and asks him from help – he is totally programmed by conservative and homophobic social law and doesn’t want to fight for love, but for externals and possibility of coming back to the normative system. When the therapy fails, he fills beaten. One of the best things on “Far from Heaven” is the director’s and the actors’ ability of balancing on the edge of melodrama without falling into a trap of theatrical gestures that turn drama into a masquerade. Thanks to it, we believe in Frank’s pain and feel angry for the system that ruins not only his, but also Cathy’s life and dreams.

When her marriage is breaking down, the protagonist starts to spend more and more time with a black, charming gardener Raymond (very good Dennis Haysbet). On the one hand Cathy seems to be a representative of a society of political correctness, in which tolerance is nothing but a nicely sounding declaration, an empty world, but on the other hand we see her being torn between authentic sympathy for her new friend and fear of public opinion. She breaks the rules and goes with Raymond to the black community’s part of town, but when confronted with rumours about it, she denies everything and pretends share other’s attitude – difference can be tolerated as long as it’s visible in official public sphere. Moore perfectly portraits her character’s internal conflict – we know that her heart is breaking when she says goodbye to the gardener, but we also understand why she fears of going different way.  The fact that it’s her gay husband who stops her from a friendship with the black man highlights both – ridiculousness and power of normative, patriarchal systems. Homosexuality can be fixed; colour of the skin will always remain the same.

The creators of the movie create a sad tale about paradoxes of America in 50s: golden years of the country’s development were taking place in the kingdom of appearances: artificial interpersonal relationships based on the immortal “keep smiling” rule, superficial declarations of tolerance and openness, unspoken permission to suppress otherness, hate speech hidden in beautiful sentences. The dramaturgy of “Far from Heaven” is based on the contrast between private and public life of the protagonists – smiling on the outside, crying on the inside.  Both, Cathy and Frank, dream of freeing themselves from social oppressive ties, but freedom requires crossing normative rules and putting the rebel ones under general ostracism. If you want to have good life in harmony with your (white and heterosexual) neighbours, you cannot afford freedom; especially when you are a woman. The most thrilling and the saddest part of the movie appears when you compare Cathy’s and Frank’s stories. He, as man, despite of his sexual orientation, has a chance of starting a new life; she has no choice.