The Sit-Down

VISITING SEATTLE last week, Todd Haynes tried to explain Far From Heaven without resorting to old movie references.

Seattle Weekly: What do you say to viewers, perhaps under 30, who’ve never seen a Douglas Sirk melodrama? How do they gain access to this movie?

I could talk about people over 50 more easily. I think it’s a film that’s not like anything you’re going to see today, youngsters. And while it might seem like it’s another planet, I think the voyage that the film asks you to take finds you recognizing problems and social issues that are all too pressing and familiar. I hope these under-30-year-olds . . . are as concerned as I am about what’s happening politically in this country. The ’50s have always been this easy target to prop up our sense of progressiveness and how much we’ve matured as a society. I think this film asks you to question how much that’s the case and, hopefully, apply it to what’s happening today.

The kids won’t just snicker at the white-bread ’50s as kitsch?

I think they’re way smarter than that. It’s not meant to be a joke. Of course, there are things that will seem ludicrous to us in terms of behavior and mannerisms. There was a real formality in the ’50s. It was a time when America began to pride itself for the first time for being on a par with European culture. We’d arrived! Now we can all appreciate classical music and modern art and dress for dinner! There was a set of proscribed roles and manners that people were supposed to observe. This movie reflects that.

So Cathy and Frank are trapped by their perfect roles and manners?

Both she and Frank are architects of that mastered world of designated roles. In many ways, he’s more aware of the unraveling of that world. She’s in the grips of trying to fix it. I think maybe the most tragic thing of all is when you’ve been trying to do it all right, and you actually come to a point when you realize you haven’t been feeling one bit of the love or attention or desire you thought you were.

Yet neither character has the vocabulary to express their discontents?

Exactly. Something I really love about these, sorry, Sirk films that inspired this movie is how pre-psychological they are as narrative films. The characters don’t have the ability to articulate what they’ve learned in their losses and in their sacrifices and in their tragic outcomes. There’s not even words for it.