“Safe,” “Heroes and Saints,” and Class
Though in our class time we mentioned issues of class in regards to both Safe and “Heroes and Saints,” I felt it might be worth exploring in a bit more detail.
In Safe, especially early in the film, we see Carol’s luxurious (if empty) life juxtaposed with that of her staff. I am reminded particularly of the scene with the milk—Carol wakes up late, saunters downstairs into her home, which is being both cleaned and renovated by immigrant labor. We see the staff (mostly Hispanic) working very closely with the chemicals which cause Carol’s illness. And yet, it is Carol who collapses in reaction to her toxic environment.
I found this story in the New York Times from 2006—the story of Caryl Schonbron, which closely resembles the Carol of Safe. I was particularly struck by the following quote (and coda to the article), “It’s been said that people with this condition are the new homeless… we’re lucky enough to build a nontoxic home, but it’s still a never-ending struggle to live in a safe all-around environment.” The logic of her sentiment illuminates what I feel is one of the key points to Safe’s satire. Though Carol doesn’t actually do anything—and is further removed from the toxins than almost everyone else in her life. However, because of her “luck” (namely, the freedom of both time and finances) she has the ability to build (or buy) a non-toxic safe haven…one which she probably needs less that her cleaning crew.
“Heroes and Saints,” meanwhile, is truly seeking to educate; to shine a light on the realities that Carol’s world denies—the world of her servants. Like Carol’s maids and repairmen, the characters of “Heroes and Saints” have chemicals on their hands and in their lungs all day. Rather than coughs and panic attacks, the residents of McLaughlin are afflicted with cancer, miscarriages, birth defects; they die from slow, painful, irrevocable, and ugly deaths. Unlike Carol, they have no choice to pack their luggage and head off to a safe haven, much less buy one.
What do we make of this? Are environmental issues inextricably linked to economic ones?