Conspiracy and Acceptance: Safe (1995)

by William Sarradet January 4, 2022
Safe (1995), Directed by Todd Haynes. Photo from the Criterion Collection

Safe (1995), Directed by Todd Haynes. Photo from the Criterion Collection

Why conspiracies exist and why they proliferate are two separate causalities. Ideas sneak themselves into unlikely territory, even absurdity, because ideas follow the entropic invitation of life. Species multiply and naturally produce genetic variation. Strangely, without having a tangible substance or physical home, ideas do exactly the same thing.

In Safe, Carol White (Julianne Moore) is a San Fernando Valley housewife who has as much help as one can possibly have, but it isn’t enough. She’s begun to develop a hypersensitivity to some invisible antigen. Her fits of asphyxiation and panic have become too intense to ignore, even though doctors can’t explain them and her husband suspects psychosomatic causes. Eventually, she elects to attend a chemical sensitivity seminar, and joins the ranks of others who experience the same symptoms on the program’s remote ranch. The language of the seminar sounds goofy, like some quirky science is being employed. Carol is a likely candidate for this kind of language, and she falls in line, ready to belong.

At the ranch, the narrative shifts. There is no healing work to be done here — there’s only a charismatic leader who insists that the attendees of the camp resolve to accept that the sick only have themselves to blame. This is illustrated in a scene where a group of newcomers gather to repeat the mantra given to them, and some aren’t ready to absolve themselves of fault. Carol, however, is a blank canvas. The implication is that her soul is seeking a purpose, and if sickness is that purpose, then she will find a way to get on board.

Safe is an amazing watch, because it marries real problems (environmental pollution) to the interminable will of humanity. How do people cope under circumstances that deny explanation? How does belief operate? The answers can bend reality.


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Rainey Knudson January 4, 2022 - 10:21

Glad to read about this.
I stumbled onto the blog linked below this weekend. They do an annual best-of list for films from 91 years prior. It started in 2008 with films from 1917; the newest entry covers 1931. Interesting observations on cinematography, editing etc from serious film buffs:

Betty January 4, 2022 - 11:09

Just finished watching this on the Criterion Channel, how timely


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