On Wednesday I posted my thoughts on Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven and later in the afternoon shared them with my colleagues in my Feminism & Film class. Based on that discussion, I rewrote the end of my short essay for clarification and amended the entry here to reflect that. Yet I still didn’t feel that I had managed to convey my thoughts adequately, that some essential piece was missing. While I stand by what I wrote before, it seems not to be the conclusion I had in mind because I didn’t leave myself enough time to fully explore the ramifications of my argument.
The place in mainstream (or conservative in the nonpolitical sense) society of the homosexual community and the place in the community for relationships between black men and white women are so marginalized as to be unacceptable, repressed, and in the case of the latter, relatively nonexistent. Cathy (Julianne Moore) is firmly situated within this conservative society, being married to Frank (Dennis Quaid) a successful advertising executive and living as an example of society being represented as Mrs. Magnatech in ads for the company. Since the movie is seen through her eyes, the audience sees the way that society views these sort of shadow societies.
My assertion is that Haynes is commenting on the world of 2002 by displaying the world of 1957 in the movie. In the intervening years, the gay rights movement has made significant advancements and that community no longer seems so hidden. While there is a long way to go before being fully accepted by the mainstream, steps have already begun in that direction. The contrast between the ways homosexuality is treated in the 1950s versus today is monumental. I believe that Frank was treated as a stereotype of the repressed homosexuals of that era in order for Haynes to say to is audience that despite all the advancements that have been made in the gay rights movement, essentially the homosexual community is just as ostracized today as they were back then. The contrast is jarring, but it is meant to be in order for the director to get his point cross.
That Raymond (Dennis Haysbert) is depicted as the opposite of a stereotype is also telling. He seems to be too perfect, an as a result, completely unbelievable as a character. But the struggle for Cathy in being with a man she has an emotional connection to and defying society or letting him go is the crux of this plot. By depicting Raymond the way he does, we aren’t able as an audience to view their inability to be together as a function of 1950s society, but look at their relationship as being a bit tragic since it seems to be ideal and unable to be consummated because of their opposing races. Haynes uses their relationship in order to comment on society in 2002 much the same way that he did with Frank: their relationship was nearly impossible to be accepted by society just as black men and white women have trouble being accepted by conservative society today.
I suppose the words I couldn’t quite articulate two days ago is that Haynes uses the stereotype of a cruising, repressed homosexual in the 1950s because it helps the audience see a more striking contrast between the way the gay community is perceived today and it was back then, not to point out progress but instead to show how little progress has actually been made. Raymond is depicted against type in order to show how cruel society is to keep two people apart solely based on their race not only in 1950 but in modern society as well. Haynes doesn’t allow these relationships to be viewed as a commentary of the social mores of the setting, but instead viewed as commentary on society at the time the film was produced, creating a subversive film that has a lasting impact on its viewers.