Why, for some of us at least, does Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven seem so far from Douglas Sirk? That's not what the reviewers promised us. Sirk's great films are about people who don't believe in death, made by someone who does. That is the explicit contrast between the black characters and the white ones in Imitation of Life (59), and the implicit one between the “bad” and the good couples in Written on the Wind; What could be more alien to that than the sort of tasteful heart-tugging you find in Far From Heaven? Like the ending-as Julianne Moore's Cathy says goodbye to the man she loves but can never be with, as his train pulls away from the platform, as she drives off in her turquoise station wagon (the same color as the one in All That Heaven Allows), as the camera and the music rise. So it's okay, that moment-the movie has earned that at least, you suppose-and the filmmaker has let you know (has he ever!) that he knows how cliché this all is, so you can relax and enjoy it guilt-free if you want. But then think of what Sirk does for a contrast&dmash;Annie's funeral at the end of Imitation of Life, Marylee's totentanz at the climax of Written on the Wind. Haynes means to make you cry, as he's said in interviews. Sirk's great films mean to wipe you out.
You can read the complete version of this article in the March/April 2003 print edition of Film Comment.