Movie Review

Far from Heaven

What Imprisons Desires Of The Heart?
Far from Heaven Movie Poster

US Release Date: 11-22-2002

Directed by: Todd Haynes


  • Julianne Moore
  • Cathy Whitaker
  • Dennis Quaid
  • Frank Whitaker
  • Dennis Haysbert
  • Raymond Deagan
  • Patricia Clarkson
  • Eleanor Fine
  • Viola Davis
  • Sybil
  • James Rebhorn
  • Dr. Bowman
  • Bette Henritze
  • Mrs. Leacock
  • Michael Gaston
  • Stan Fine
  • Barbara Garrick
  • Doreen
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: November 24th, 2002
Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven.

Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven.

When the music swells during the opening credits and the old fashioned lettering of the title comes on the screen you will think you are stuck in a time warp watching an old Douglas Sirk melodrama, or perhaps a Bette Davis vehicle complete with a Max Steiner score. The acting, visual look and especially the dialogue in Far From Heaven are very retro. Recreated is an ideal Nineteen-fifties suburban world depicted with beautiful cinematography, picture-perfect style and lavish color by writer-director Todd Haynes. For modern moviegoers the characters may seem absurd at first but once the plot wheels begin to turn the movie becomes a gripping drama and classic tragic love story.

On the surface the Whitakers are the ideal American family. Father is a successful advertising executive, mother is the perfect hostess and the young son and daughter are adorably wholesome. They even have a wise and comforting black maid. All of these clichés are given a multi-layered new life in this incredibly original and entertaining movie.

One evening Cathy Whitaker decides to bring dinner to her husband, who always seems to be working late at the office, only to discover him in the arms of another man. Emotionally distraught and unable to confide in her best friend she seeks solace in the companionship of her black gardener. Drama of the highest order ensues. This is not Donna Reed plot material by any means. The powerful combination of the recreated innocence of the Eisenhower era with the more contemporary adult situations proves potent.

The acting in Far From Heaven is superb. Julianne Moore gives a subtle yet powerful reading. She captures the essence of a woman trying to maintain a happy façade to the world while crumbling emotionally on the inside. On top of this she gets to wear great outfits and is photographed radiantly. Dennis Quaid shows every bit of his characters confusion and frustration at having to live a lie. He is particularly good in the cocktail party scene and in a dramatic moment near the end. Dennis Haysbert as the handsome and understanding gardener Raymond Deagan gets it exactly right and Patricia Clarkson is good as the gossiping best friend.

Without spoiling the details of the ending the relationship between Cathy and Raymond has the look and feel of those incredibly romantic yet tragic movies from days gone by only told with a refreshingly modern twist. Finally we have a movie that combines old-fashioned movie acting with completely believable characters in an entertaining and beautifully wrapped package. And if that isn't enough Far From Heaven even manages to be thought provoking and reflective of social attitudes, showing how much they have changed in the past half-a-century -and how much they haven't- at the same time.

Reviewed on: November 27th, 2002
Dennis Quaid in Far From Heaven.

Dennis Quaid in Far From Heaven.

Almost everything Patrick said is accurate. The 1950's are quite often remembered as the golden decade. The economy was great. Morals were something you bragged about having. Far From Heaven demonstrates that from some angles, the 1950's were a living hell. Mr. Whitaker is gay, or as the movie would say; "too flowery." In those days it was a very closeted thing. He goes to therapy to attempt to become straight. Mrs. Whitaker has a secret black male friend. This as well, was very taboo. So both husband and wife have a secret from each other. This is the 1950's and both will potentially ruin their lives if they act upon their secrets.

Many old movies and television shows, show these ideal 1950's families. This movie explores the fact that there were lots of issues and problems then. It shows that the 1950's were really not, particularly socially, the American utopia it is so often remembered for being. The point is to make this movie look like every other average 50's movie then tear apart that standard to show a whole different side to that decade.

The color is great in this film. The opening shot is of the most perfect looking yard and home. It's a beautiful fall day with lots of autumn colors and a bright blue sky. Of course this is all the surface. Things only look perfect for this family.

The couple in this family is often considered by other characters in the film to be the perfect family. They are anything but. Not only are they both holding immense secrets, they are both the worst parents in the world. In almost every scene that one of the children appear in they get told to either wait until later, not now or some other variation on that line. The daughter only wants ballet slippers and the boy calls his dad Pop and uses phrases like 'aw shucks'. As much as these two kids get ignored they will become pot smoking, war protesting 60's hippies for sure.

A great movie that peels away the image of an ideal time in America. Sure, there are still people who will look down on gays and interracial relationships today. However, we should all watch this movie to see that progress has been made in the world of tolerance and appreciation.

Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid do some great acting. I agree with Patrick that his drunk scene is excellent. Moore shines in several scenes where her character is walking around with a lot of stress on her yet she is constantly putting on her Donna Reed front. If only I could have liked these characters. Mr. Whitaker is a lousy husband and father. Mrs. Whitaker is the biggest phony. They both find themselves in holes that they dug themselves.

Reviewed on: November 29th, 2002
Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert in Far From Heaven.

Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert in Far From Heaven.

I have to agree with Eric that I didn't 'like' these characters, but only if he means that he didn't like them in the sense that he wouldn't be friends with either of them if he knew them.  I'd have to disagree if he said that he didn't like them because he didn't find them interesting or entertaining to watch.  Kind of like not 'liking' car accidents and still slowing down to look at one.  Because these character's lives are like a car accident, with most of the movie being the screeching of tires leading up to the inevitable crash to follow.

I found them both fascinating.  What was interesting to me was how near the beginning of the film Frank (Dennis Quaid) comes off as the more sympathetic of the two.  He's gay and trapped in a position where he will never be able to be his true self.  As the movie goes on I realized that despite this, it is really Cathy (Julianne Moore) who is the more trapped of the two.  As evidenced by his decision at the end of the movie, Frank has the freedom to do as he wishes.  Not without consequences and I certainly don't perceive a happy ending coming for him, but as a man in the 1950's, the money maker, and the head of the house, he has the ability to get what he wants.  He could, if he wished, pack up and move somewhere more tolerant of his behavior, secure in being able to find work and survive.

Cathy, as a wife and mother, is never truly going to be free in the society in which she lives.  Without a husband she will live as a social outcast forced to accept responsibility for her children on her own, living with the stigma that others will place upon her status as a divorcee. She of the two is farthest from heaven.  Unable to find even the basic sexual release that Frank was able to find at his deepest moments in the closet.

Even if I hadn't found these characters so fascinating I would still have enjoyed this movie, if only for the beautiful, almost magical colors and images it contains.  Each scene is so rich and full that it is a physical pleasure to your eyes just to watch them.

Certainly not a 'feel good' movie by any means, Far from Heaven is a lush and vibrant look at the underside of America's 'golden age'.

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