Todd Haynes’s Safe and the Covid-19 Pandemic Mirror on the Wall
Todd Haynes’s 1995 film Safe depicts the demise of protagonist Carol White as she suffers headaches, bloody noses, insomnia, asthma, and seizures from environmental illness, which leads to her social and marital demise and her taking refuge at Wrenwood, a sanitarium retreat in the Albuquerque foothills. This article reads Carol as a tragic archetype, and aligns the indices of COVID-19 pandemic life (face masks and social isolation for safety) with Carol’s similar response to her illness. While the film has previously been critiqued and interpreted from perspectives including feminism, consumerism, environmentalism, suburbia, race, heteronormativity, melodrama, plague, Whiteness, and AIDS politics, this article performs a close reading based on Northrop Frye’s archetypal definition of Aristotelian tragedy, and then analyzes the differences in late-pandemic middle class American perspectives from that of Carol White as she navigates her situation. Late-pandemic middle class perspectives provide an optimistic and alternate fate to the tragic pathos depicted in Carol’s story.