In Safe, Carol White (Julianne Moore) lives with her husband and stepson in a luxurious suburban home in California. Despite working out at the gym and meeting regularly with a small circle of women friends, she lacks any signs of savoring life. Carol complains of feeling run down and depressed. Eventually, she is diagnosed as suffering from an environmental illness sparked by an allergic reaction to the chemicals all around her in the fabric of her furniture, in car exhaust, in bug sprays, at the dry cleaners, even in her husband's cologne. Carol decides to seek safety at a New Age wellness center in the deserts of New Mexico. The spartan compound has been set up as a toxin-free environment where individuals can find group support and self-respect.
Writer and director Todd Haynes has made a haunting film about two troubling dimensions of modern life. The first is the havoc wrought upon our immune systems by the daily exposure to toxins. The second is the soul loss of so many people who seem to be suffering from a kind of spiritual starvation. In Carol's case, living out of herself rather than depending on others seems to be the best path for her recovery. Or as a passage in Letters of the Scattered Brotherhood puts it, "Your only safety is to be within the center of your kingdom, living from within out, not from without in."