The nature vs. nurture debate has been longstanding for decades. To what degree is human development influenced by our genetics versus environment in early childhood? That particular issue continues into adulthood, whereby the means we use to cope with stressors and essentially try to control our surroundings have biopsychosocial components. However, dealing with an illness challenges all of our coping mechanisms. Issues in disease management can lead to further ailments, yet it is quite difficult to control the obstacles that one’s surrounding world faces them with on a daily basis. “Safe”, a 1995 independent film directed by Todd Haynes, carefully explores this interplay while questioning our motives and ability to interact with our evolving surroundings.
In one of her earliest roles, Julianne Moore exceptionally and delicately portrays Carol White. Her character is a housewife in the late 1980s who desperately yearns to exact perfection in her life, from expressing anger towards the colour of a couch that was delivered to her home to embarking on a fruit diet fad. Trouble arises when Carol starts to become ill around any environmental toxin. This highly damages her ability to live life as she once did on a daily basis, and she does have some concerning symptoms. She decides to enter into a treatment centre where others face the same struggles with their environment. It is in this setting that the idea of controlling one’s ailments via self-love arises, one which questions the true contributor towards the dissolution of Carol’s once seemingly perfect universe.
“Safe” is quite an ironic title for this film. It is a term used frequently in the film to describe methods of controlling the environment which will undoubtedly lead to markedly improved health and well-being. However, this message gives a sense of false hope and security. Self-mastery cannot guarantee complete authority over the obstacles we face on a daily basis. Employment stressors are a given challenge in daily life. Particularly pertinent to this film, individuals with allergies may have a life-threatening reaction due to a chance encounter with a deadly allergen. Mental illness can also create a vulnerability in facing these trials, as Carol’s sensitivities could be interpreted as Somatic Symptom Disorder. In essence, the acknowledgement of the unknown creates a lingering sense of restlessness in our lives, and we are never completely safe from what the future holds for each of us.
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