Usually, when a great movie I hadn’t seen before is picked for Hit Me With Your Best Shot, I thank blogger extraordinaire Nathaniel Rogers for giving me the perfect excuse to finally catch up with it. However this time, because I’m doing my own 1995 Project, I was already going to watch Todd Haynes’s Safe no matter what, so instead, I will complain to Nathaniel for picking one of the best directed and photographed movies I have ever seen. How the hell am I supposed to pick just one shot from this masterpiece of a movie?
Not only is practically every shot in Safe as beautiful as you could ask it to be, but they are also essential to the movie’s message. As far as the art of cinematography is concerned, I don’t think you can ask for more than a beautiful looking movie whose photography is carefully designed to enhance the message of the plot. On that note, kudos to DP Alex Nepomniaschy for helping Haynes in crafting one of the greatest movies of the nineties.
The precise beauty of the compositions, and mostly static camera give away the bigger metaphors of the plot. Julianne Moore stars in one of the best performances of her career as Carol White, a L.A. housewife who starts to believe she is allergic to her surroundings. The fact that every shot in the movie is as beautiful as to be framed makes us aware of the screen as a canvas, a box. Thus, the frame becomes a symbol for Carol’s imprisonment. She is trapped in a sterile world as meticulously designed as the photography of the movie.
On that note, my pick for best shot is a very literal representation of this metaphor. Carol thinks she will find a cure to her ailments in a remote New Mexico commune. She is overwhelmed on the day she arrives, so she ends the day retiring to her cabin and crying her heart out. With time, she will start to believe that this facility is giving her the freedom and health that her previous life was lacking, but in this crying moment, the movie gives us a hint of the true nature of this “salvation”.
Haynes and Nepomniaschy put all of the cabin in frame. Seeing Carol cry inside is like seeing her in a prison. She’s come to regain her freedom, her health, her sanity, but she is just entering another box. Safe has a number of moments of heavy symbolism like this, and in that sense, it reminds me of Mad Men. Both use very obvious symbolism in the sense that is easy to spot what elements of the narrative are meant to be allegorical, while the meaning of the symbols is much more complex. It’s a mix between clarity and opaqueness that I enjoy. That’s why Mad Men is my favorite tv show of all time, and Safe one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.