Todd Haynes by Alison MacLean

Alison MacLean and Todd Haynes

Interview on Safe from 1995

Here's a brief excerpt from the beginning.

Alison Maclean When you wrote the script for Safe did you see it as a horror film?

Todd Haynes Definitely. But a completely latent horror film where every day life is the most frightening of all.

AM What's so unusual about Safe is the way in which it refuses to tell you what to think, whereas most films we watch take us by the scruff of the neck and tell us what to think and how to feel. Safe is ambivalent, almost as if you're undecided yourself. It's similar to the experience it's investigating, of being hurt and going to one of those New Age retreats with equal feelings of hope—that there is some answer in their cure—and also skepticism and fear that their philosophy is completely hollow.

TH I wanted to interrogate my own knee-jerk reactions against these kinds of places. I researched New Age philosophy with an open mind to see what it was doing that I didn't like. And to see what it was doing that people were so in need of right now. Why is it taking on such a huge predominance in people's lives? Why are they choosing it as a way to comprehend their illness, unhappiness, or their emotional uncertainty? The book that really got me revved up was Louise Hay's book on AIDS.

AM I don't know her.

TH She's a California-based, middle-aged woman whose life changed from her illness and her subsequent recovery. With the best intentions, she wrote a series of books with little daily meditations. This was in the mid-’80s, when AIDS was taking off, and she developed a strong following among gay men. Her book literally states that if we loved ourselves more we wouldn't get sick with this illness. And that once you get it, if you learn how to love yourself in a proper way, you can overcome it. That's scary. I kept thinking of the people who have no answers to their situation and who turn to this. And my motivation wasn't to demonize the instigators or to victimize and reveal the blind ignorance of the followers, but just to understand this phenomenon for myself. Safe is a guarded interrogation of the whole thing with a careful sympathy for its central character, Carol White. I didn't want to overpower her with my own opinions or allow the film to overpower her with its narrative instructions. This character has her own uncertainty about who she is, and the vastly changing face of her world becomes our guide to her.