In The Safety of Objects, Rose Troche delivers a two hour essay on letting go. We open with a little mechanical parade of people, sliding orderly as family groups out of their respective model homes, reminiscent of old complicated clocks that would do more than just poke out a cuckoo bird on the hour. It prepares us for the onslaught of characters we're about to see - a good thing, though it's still hard to keep track of some of them past the halfway point.
These four suburban families (and Randy - can't forget Randy, the landscaping guy) have had their lives intersect, but the film takes its time in explaining how. This was one great decision - I don't know whether to attribute it to the script or the book its based on, but otherwise, the film would have played out like a bad soap opera, no matter how subtle the touch.
Almost every character we spend much time with has been engaging in some kind of compulsive or avoiding behavior. Many choose not to deal with what's happened in their lives. Glen Close, as Esther Gold, has a son, Paul, in vegetative state - he used to play guitar in a band and all the other things a typical teenager did. Now she takes care of his every physical need, afraid to show her frustration. In order to get some relief she enters one of those stupid radio contests where you have to keep one hand on a car longer than any other contestant, in order to win it.
Dermot Mulroney, as workaholic lawyer Jim Train, decides to stop going to work when someone else is made partner, and he gets a plaque of recognition as a way of being placated. He gets in the way of his family, who are used to him not being around, and searches for something to fixate on, to ground himself in this strange time in his life.
Patricia Clarkson is Annette Jennings, a single mother whose children are borderline hostile to their rarely visiting father. We learn she had a relationship with Esther's son Paul before the accident that only technically left him alive. She has to deal with her ex-husband, the disappearance of one of her children, and a desperate need for companionship.
Mary Kay Place is Helen Christianson, with two children and a husband. She is a compulsive one, both in her pursuit of Tai Chi and in conversations with people. Her son Bobby has a strange, but incredibly entertaining, relationship with his sister's Tami doll, who actually speaks to him all the time. He tries to keep her happy and displays all kinds of adolescent concepts about relationships in the process.
We even find that Randy is Paul's old chum, and has had a lot to deal with himself since that fateful night. There's more and more characters after these, even, each having their own issues. The script does marvellously for such a wide cast, making us feel like something is happening with them at every moment, even as we only are given the slightest hints as to what's really going on.
In a way - and many might find this quite strange - I think this is the kind of film Signs could have been, if you just got rid of the stupid alien plot that gummed up the works. We'd have been left with people dealing - and not dealing - with the traumatic events of their lives. Just a thought, but I doubt M. Night would have gone for it.
The Safety of Objects is a great film with a great approach. I feel there were missing touches that would have made it even better. Some characters are minor, are shown to have their own complex emotions, but don't get the treatment such emotions deserve. It's hard to balance, sure, but whether through the script, or just subtle acting, such characters call out to be dealt with simply from their existence. There's assuredly more details in the original novel, but their absence here is hard to overlook.
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