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Safe: Criterion Collection DVD Review

Safe: Criterion Collection

January 22, 2015

Director: Todd Haynes,
Starring: Julianne Moore, Peter Friedman, Xander Berkeley, James LeGros, Susan Norman, Mary Carver, April Grace, Brandon Cruz,

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DVD Review

Safe (1995) was only independent filmmaker Todd Haynes’ second feature film, but it established him as an emerging talent with a unique worldview and a knack for presenting fascinating female protagonists, in this case one played by Julianne Moore who has become something of a cinematic muse for him over the years.

Set in the San Fernando Valley circa 1987, the film follows suburban housewife Carol White (Moore) who lives in a generic-looking neighborhood. She lives in a nice, large house and is married to a nice enough man named Greg (Berkeley). She spends her days toiling away in her garden and going to aerobics class. At night, she has unfulfilling sex with her husband (Moore’s expression says it all). She has banal conversations with her friends about having work done to their respective homes.

One day while out doing some errands, Carol gets stuck behind a truck emitting all kinds of noxious smoke, which causes her to cough uncontrollably to the point where she stops the car because it develops into something akin to a panic attack. She chalks up the experience to stress. Carol finds herself getting increasingly sick, confounding her doctors who can’t find anything wrong with her. It disrupts Carol’s daily routine much to her dismay.

As befitting her surname, Carol lives a rather bland existence of privilege. On a materialistic level she has everything she could want, but her lifestyle and possessions define her. With her mousy demeanor and chirpy voice, Julianne Moore does a good job of portraying Carol as a nice enough person, but someone devoid of any real depth. She excels at depicting her character’s gradual breakdown as the unknown illness takes its toll both emotionally and physically. She has more than a whiff of trophy wife about her. Moore had done several films at this point, but Safe was her first substantial, headlining role that allowed her to showcase her considerable talents.

Haynes does an excellent job of gradually introducing an ominous tone to Safe that evokes, at times, David Lynch’s films with an unsettling soundscape and uncomfortable pregnant pauses. And like Lynch, Haynes finds horror lurking under the seemingly perfect-looking façade of suburbia. Safe came out at just the right time when the Sundance Film Festival and the Weinsteins’ Miramax studio led the charge for indie films from a scene that had been spearheaded by Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies & videotape (1989) and popularized by Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994).

Special Features:

This Blu-Ray transfer is a significant improvement over the existing Sony DVD with a sharper image and excellent amount of detail.

There is an audio commentary from the 2001 DVD with director Todd Haynes, actress Julianne Moore and producer Christine Vachon. They take us through the making of Safe with thoughtful observations and solid filming anecdotes that fans will appreciate.

There is a fantastic conversation between Haynes and Moore recorded specifically for this edition. They look back at Safe after all these years and talk about how they first met as well as working on the film. He points out that many of its themes are still relevant if not more so than they were in 1995. They talk about the influence of Douglas Sirk’s films in this engaging extra.

There is a new interview with producer Christine Vachon who talks about working with Haynes whom she has collaborated with on several films.

Also included is The Suicide, a short film Haynes made in 1978 about a mentally ill boy alienated in a middle-school located in suburbia. It is striking how much this anticipates the themes explored in Safe.

Finally, there is a trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 95%

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