By John H. Foote
The finest film I saw in 2002 was Todd Haynes miraculous homage to Douglas Sirk Far from Heaven, a beautiful film filled with heartache and pain, but superbly acted by Julianne Moore as the fifties suburban housewife trapped between two men. One doesn’t want her after years of marriage as his secret is exposed and the other she knows she can never have, but damned if she does not try.
It is not often two actors are nominated in the same category for a single film, but it has taken place on occasion through the history of the Academy. Though neither actor received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for their sterling work in Far from Heaven, each deserved a nomination for what might be the finest work of their career.
Dennis Quaid is Frank, a rising star in his company, affluent, a good husband and father, provider and well liked by those in his community. It is one of those suburbs where everyone knows everyone’s business, which will be to the detriment of Frank and Cathy (Moore), his loyal wife. We see, before Cathy does, Frank frequents fifties gay bars, which were more or less underground and not spoken about. Obviously ashamed, he goes into these places at night when being recognized will be trickier. But one night he does not call home and Cathy, being the poster girl for good wife, takes him dinner. Stunned she walks in on Frank kissing another man and their problems begin. He sees a doctor, believing he can be cured, and Cathy is with him 100% of the way, believing in him, wanting him to get well. But when he has sex with a younger man aboard a cruise ship, their marriage is over and they both know it.
Reeling in grief, she slowly becomes friends with her towering black gardener, Deagan (Haysbert) and just as gradual they become more than friends. Chaste, but certainly much more than mere friends. Deagan takes her to a bar in the black section of town, attracting attention wherever they go, but neither seems to mind until the threats and violence starts. Shockingly the violence does not come from the whites but the blacks, who go after Deagan for bringing scandal to their world when he brings Cathy into it. When his daughter is attacked and injured, he realizes he can no longer stay in this city, he has become a target. Cathy begs him to stay, then begs him to run away with her, they could find a place where they could be safe, but Deagan knows better. In the fifties a black man did not dare fall in love with a white woman, and for a white woman to do so? Immediate scandal.
Quaid is superb as Frank, racked with shame, but knowing enough about himself that this is the life he has chosen. He will live his life as a homosexual despite what society says he can and cannot do. He can live with the staggering shame this will bring to his wife in fifties America, because to remain with her and force her to live a lie with him is a fate worse than death. Quaid had given many fine performances previous to this, “Gordo” Cooper in The Right Stuff (1983) and his tubercular Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp (1994), but never had he gone so far outside his comfort zone in a film. He won the coveted New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor for this performance, but not an Oscar nomination.
Though there was less Oscar talk for Dennis Haysbert, best known these days as an insurance pitchman, he was no less deserving as the massive black man who befriends Cathy. With no friends to turn too, no one she can trust, she turns to this man who is a good listener, compassionate and seems to care about what she is saying. He is cordial, a true gentleman to her, and they become fast friends very fast. Cathy falls in love with him and he with her, and they are so obviously soul mates, but tragically given society at the time, can never be together. When her very best friend (she thinks) turns her back on her because she confides about her love for Deagan, she realizers how terrible things are for him.
Far from Heaven was the finest film I saw in 2002, but not treated well by the Academy. Nominations should have come for best Picture, Director, twice for Supporting Actor, Script, Music, Cinematography, Costumes, Production Design and Film Editing to go along with Moore’s Best Actress nod.
Sadly, Quaid and Haysbert were victims of snubs for their finest work.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.