Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Don't Touch Me.

The Todd Haynes/Julianne Moore fest continues! This is title four for Mr Haynes (with a fifth on the way) and title six for Ms Moore (with two more on the way - can anyone say Julianne-love? I can, but it's not a very attracting combined word, so I might drop the hyphen. Good? Good.)

Safe hit in 1995 and was a bit of a breakthrough for both Haynes, post Poison, and Moore, landing them both in the limelight. It was a title I remember seeing around at the time and in the years after, and have heard a lot about, making me expect something wondrous. I must say, I was a little disappointed.

Carol (Moore) is a suburban housewife, partnered to Greg (Xander Berkeley), stepmother to his son. She spends her time around the house, not working, not really doing anything that might be considered productively using her time - there are no real hobbies outside of decorating her home. There is nothing really wrong with her life, per se, but it does seem somewhat hollow. Suddenly she begins to develop horrible allergies and unexplained medical problems - asthma strikes, nosebleeds, vomiting, convulsions - and they get more and more severe as the film progresses. Doctors can't work out what is wrong with her, and, struggling, she reaches out to an advertisement she sees for a new age retreat called Wrenwood, a rural estate designed to help people suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity. Cars are not allowed, allergens are kept to a minimum, all to try and allow these people to function on a day to day basis.

Whilst there, she almost seems to be brainwashed. Religion is involved, visits are limited, and her condition doesn't seem to improve at all. In fact, it is not long before she is wheeling around an oxygen tank and eyeing off an old igloo-type structure that another chronic sufferer created in order to bar all outside intrusion in the hope that this will help.

I don't mean to cheapen the experience of anyone who may actually suffer from disorders like this (I have no doubt that there must be some repercussions to the hugely increased chemical intrusion on our day to day lives), but it does seem to be quite heavily implied that much of this from Carol is a cry for attention. More than that, actually, it seems that she is looking for a niche to involve herself in, for a world that gives her meaning, structure, purpose. Or at least gives her a very valid excuse for not being able to pursue one. 

I didn't find myself overly intrigued by the story. There is a distinct possibility that that is at least partially the fault of the time passed since the setting of the film - like the Y2K hysteria, there may well have been a bigger cultural fear of traumas like this becoming more common and destructive during that time period. It definitely feels like a mid-1990s complex. Looking back on it it seems a little absurd, but maybe at the time is was much more topical and therefore more relevant. Now, for me (and this might be a cause of my own rampant skepticism of cults and cult-like organisations, which Wrenwood does superficially appear to be) it simple seems a little absurd.

Moore is fine in the film. I've seen her do much better work, I think. She didn't overly engage me with her character - I kind of wanted to slap her and tell her to go and get a life, stop being so passive and do something to improve her situation. And that was all before her problems started. I just didn't have any desire to empathise with her. 

Hayne's work both as writer and director also didn't really allow me in. He kept us very distant from the actions, not really allowing us into the emotions of anyone. The camera remained very objective, refusing to judge either Moore or Wrenwood or society, and I feel the film as a whole suffered for this. A little more editorialising might have allowed me to find a stance that gave me emotional involvement, whether positively or negatively, but instead it just left me floating loose in the middle.

The film as a whole was kind of interesting, but kind of not at the same time. It's memorable for a few moments of imagery, and it definitely serves as a marker in the trajectory of Hayne's career, coming between Poison and Velvet Goldmine. You can see the lessons he learned from his debut, and also where he stands to learn with his third film. 

I have now watched all of Hayne's films, and I definitely think that going through his career I like each of his films more than the last. Which is a truly remarkable thing to watch. Every one of his films (will) appear on this blog, and he will be the only filmmaker with more than one or two films (I think) to have that honour. I will have watched his entire oeuvre over a six month period, which has really enlightened me to the movements of him as a filmmaker, his development. And I really like that. I'm really happy I have had this opportunity.

Having said that, the film is 2.5 stars.

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