Safe – The Criterion Collection #739 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 17, 2014 by  


“Safe” is the film that help propel the careers of filmmaker Todd Haynes, producer Christine Vachon and actress Julianne Moore.  But the film’s ambiguous nature, the unexpected and the magnificent performance by Julianne Moore and masterful direction by Todd Haynes makes this film worth watching!  One can only hope for the Criterion Collection to release more films by Todd Haynes on Blu-ray in the near future!

Image courtesy of © 1995 The Chemical Films Limited Partnership.  2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Safe – The Criterion Collection #739


DURATION: 105 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 aspect ratio, English Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH


RELEASE DATE: December 9, 2014

Directed by Todd Haynes

Written by Todd Haynes

Executive Producer: John Hart, Ted Hope

Produced by Christine Vachon, Lauren Zalaznick

Music by Ed Tomney

Cinematography by Alex Nepomniaschy

Edited by James Lyons

Casting by Jakki Fink

Art Direction by Anthony Stabley

Set Decoration by Mary E. Gullickson

Costume Design by Nancy Steiner


Julianne Moore as Carol White

Xander Berkeley as Greg White

Ronnie Farer as Barbara

Jodie Markell as Anita

Susan Norman as Linda

Chauncey Leopardi as Rory

Steve Gilborn as Dr. Hubbard

Julianne Moore gives a breakthrough performance as Carol White, a Los Angeles housewife in the late 1980s who comes down with a debilitating illness. After the doctors she sees can give her no clear diagnosis, she comes to believe that she has frighteningly extreme environmental allergies. A profoundly unsettling work from the great American director Todd Haynes, Safe functions on multiple levels: as a prescient commentary on self-help culture, as a metaphor for the AIDS crisis, as a drama about class and social estrangement, and as a horror film about what you cannot see. This revelatory drama was named the best film of the 1990s in a Village Voice poll of more than fifty critics.


Filmmaker Todd Haynes is known for his films “Far from Heaven” and the Bob Dylan biographical musical film “I’m Not There”.

While also known for “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story”, “Poison” and “Velvet Goldmine”.

But his second feature film “Safe” would garner critical acclaim upon release back in 1995, but the question is did audiences really understand the film at that time?

Nevertheless, “Safe” can be interpreted as a film of hope, a tragedy, a horror film and its ambiguity may lead to people being confused.

But the film would help propel filmmaker Todd Haynes towards the mainstream, would jumpstart the producing career of Christine Vachon and also giving young actress at the time, Julianne Moore, her first major leading role in a film.

And now “Safe” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

“Safe” is set in 1987 in San Fernando Valley and it begins with Carol White (portrayed by Julianne Moore) and her husband Greg (portrayed by Xander Berkeley) arriving home and then having sex.  While her husband is into it, you can see face of Carol who seems as if she is uninterested.

A normal homemaker that is planning on the interior design of her home, planting in the garden and going to aerobics classes with her friends, one day while going home, Carol begins to cough uncontrollably while behind a truck that has a lot of smoke coming out of its tailpipe.  Coughing to the point that she gets confused and starts coughing in a parking garage.

While going to the doctor for a checkup, the doctor feels there is nothing wrong with her and she is perfectly healthy.  But she starts to develop mild to severe symptoms as she begins to lose her breath, begins to hyperventilate, has a nose bleed and makes it difficult to live life and it begins to affect her family.

As she continues to get more check ups, she is told to visit a psychiatrist and allergist as her body is producing strange reactions, coughing that she can’t stop and even convulsions that puts her into the ground.

She starts to meet groups with people who also have similar issues where doctors, significant others, friends don’t believe there is anything wrong with them but the individual themselves feel there is a significant problem.

What is wrong with Carol?


“Safe- The Criterion Collection #739” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality for the film is fantastic as the 4K restoration has brought out much better detail.  There is a good amount of grain during the film and while the film is 20-years-old, it doesn’t look like it at all.  Better clarity, no signs of aging colors or problematic artifacts or negative issues.

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.”


As for audio, “Safe – The Criterion Collection #739” is presented in English LPCM 1.0. The monaural soundtrack is clear with no sign of hiss, crackle or any popping.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX3.”

Subtitles are in English SDH.


“Safe – The Criterion Collection #739” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring a 2001 audio commentary by Todd Haynes, actress Julianne Moore and producer Christine Vachon.
  • The Suicide – (20:30) Todd Hayne’s first serious directorial effort was a surreal short from 1978. Haynes thought it was lost until producer, Michael Quinn Martin, discovered a print at his parents’ home.
  • Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore – (36:10) A 2014 conversation with director Todd Yanes and actress Julianne Moore.
  • Christine Vachon – (15:54) Producer Christine Vachon discusses her working relationship with Todd Haynes.
  • Trailer – (1:19) The original theatrical trailer for “Safe”.


“Safe – The Criterion Collection #739” comes with a poster-sized insert with the essay “Nowhere to Hide” by Dennis Lim.


Todd Haynes is a filmmaker that creates films that people think they understand, creates films that may often alienate viewers and films with no clear cut ending.

Bucking the banal Hollywood ending, “Safe” is a film that may seem simple in describing but the film itself is not simplistic at all.

A normal housewife begins having illnesses that doctors are baffled by.  Each time she is told that she is healthy, her husband starts to be upset because he wants normalcy, when his wife is experiencing situations that should not be affecting her.    No one knows what’s wrong with her, she believes she has some type of environmental illness and seeks some answers for why her body is behaving like it is.

Watching “Safe”, I began thinking of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Red Desert” about a woman who feels that she drowning in her environment, lonely, isolated.  For “Safe”, while Carole is by no means lonely or isolated, her reactions seem as if she feels out of place.

While some may classify Carol’s medical condition as MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity), it may easily be the case.  But this is a film made during the ’80s, before people had any answer to certain illnesses and watching Carol, I felt there was something unsettling about her.  The way she has sex, the way she seems a bit off at times, possibly even depressed.  The fact is that she is a woman that seeks the truth of why she is what she is. She seems rather empty, distant and alienated.

And sometimes in society, people feel comfort in the most unusual or unfortunate settings.  May it be cults or other forms of groups that have an outlandish ideology on life.   Her difficulty of breathing, perhaps its the people around her.  Her husband, the lifestyle…perhaps she feels suffocated by it all.

And possibly when the film was released, it was possibly a statement of America.  The fear of AIDS, the fear of something bad was going to happen.  From the wild and party years of the late ’70s, ushering towards a decade of conservatism and fear of AIDS and the Cold War but then ushering an era of the ’90s that began with war, plenty of attention towards money and social lifestyle and all in all, Carol is a person who has had enough and not sure how to deal with life.  Are people a product of their environment and is there any hope for her at all?

When I first watched the film, it was almost a similar feeling I had during my late teens ala the mid-90’s of listening to Morrissey’s album “Bona Drag” over and over and listening to “Everyday is Like Sunday” and “Suedehead”, just thinking at one point in my life that what I watched on television and the constant negative news and seeing the materialism of the ’90s, which was really a drag.

And so I watched “Safe” at the time as not a film about a woman with an unexplainable disease but a woman who was affected by her environment and had no way out, until she discovered a group of others who are like herself.

Misery likes company.

And my opinion hasn’t changed so much today because the environment has shapeshifted to another type of monster with the unknown of social media, technological advances and whichever crap that exists out there today.  But where people had aspired to be like 90210 back in the mid-90’s, our society has become much broker and are paying for the materialistic nature of companies of the past.

So, this film does have so much relevancy even today.

And actress Julianne Moore does a fantastic job in her first lead role of playing a character that is suffering.  A riveting performance by Julianne Moore with masterful directing by Todd Haynes!

The Blu-ray release of “Safe” is rather fascinating because it’s probably the best looking version of the film to date thanks to its 4K restoration bringing out the clarity of the film and making it look like it was a film that is more recent than older and aged.  The film looks magnificent and it’s monaural soundtrack is clear without any hiss.

You also get the original 2001 commentary with director Todd Haynes, producer Christine Vachon and actress Julianne Moore.  You get a newer conversation from 2014 between Haynes and Moore and also an interview with Christine Vachon.  But possibly one of the coolest featurettes was the discovered surreal short film by Todd Haynes titled “The Suicide” from 1978 which definitely makes even sense today as bullying has made it mainstream as more education of how messed up it is to pick on people who are short, non-athletic and what happens to one child who is picked on constantly and tormented by his bullies.  A very deep short film from Todd Haynes that is probably much more relevant today than when it was created back in the late ’70s!

Overall, “Safe” is the film that help propel the careers of filmmaker Todd Haynes, producer Christine Vachon and actress Julianne Moore.  But the film’s ambiguous nature, the unexpected and the magnificent performance by Julianne Moore and masterful direction by Todd Haynes makes this film worth watching!  One can only hope for the Criterion Collection to release more films by Todd Haynes on Blu-ray in the near future!

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