The Safety of Objects (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

For Esther (Glenn Close), Paul's coma makes him safe to love: he'll never leave her, never get in trouble worse than what he's in now.

The Safety of Objects

Director: Rose Troche
Cast: Glenn Close, Jessica Campbell, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Jackson, Moira Kelly
MPAA rating: R
Studio: IFC Films
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-03-07

Objects seem safe. Unknowing and un-needy, they absorb desires and ask nothing in return, accommodating by definition. That's why you brush your doll's hair, trick out your car, frame your art. You can love your objects without fear of rejection. Or so you think. Rose Troche's The Safety of Objects, which she adapted from A. M. Homes' short stories, suggests otherwise. Here, objects offer only temporary respite, and when you realize they can't sustain the illusion of safety, the drop-off is devastating.

To make this rather obvious point, The Safety of Objects offers a series of disturbing relationships between humans and their chosen objects, most obsessive or destructive, all selfish and distressingly heedless. These relationships fester in a suburban neighborhood, where folks have too much time and space, too many objects around them. In this, the movie resembles other recent burb-breakdowns, from Ang Lee's sobering Ice Storm and any of Todd Solondz's increasingly grim visions to the portentous American Beauty and the soapy Life as a House.

Much like these films, Safety features a range of characters, across four families, harboring lots of secrets. Lawyer Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney), for example, is passed over for a promotion and walks out, not exactly quitting (so his secretary wonders when he's coming back, and covers for him) and explaining his sudden appearance back home as the result of a "bomb threat." (The terrorists have won, perhaps, when they serve as an excuse for this self-indulgent dweeb.) When Jim suspects that his wife Susan (Moira Kelly) is having an affair (and even more monumentally, for him, feels pressured by her request for a new dishwasher), Jim resets his own sights on a great big object -- an SUV that a local radio station is giving away, in a contest at the mall.

When he finds that he's too late to enter the contest (one of those keep-one-hand-on-the-vehicle-till-all-other-drop deals), Jim compromises in order to reach his all-important goal. He picks a likely winner, his neighbor Esther Gold (Glenn Close). She's already in the contest at the urging of her daughter Julie (Jessica Campbell), who wants the car less than she wants her mom to get it for her. Julie's reason for being so needy is obvious: for months, Esther has been spending all her time attending to another object, Julie's comatose brother Paul (Joshua Jackson). Glimpsed in flashbacks that lead, slowly, to the car accident that leaves him in this state, once aspiring rock star Paul now lies hooked up to tubes and gauges, still and unchanging. (And frankly, it's not a little weird to see Pacey so laid out.) For Esther, Paul's ever-after unconsciousness makes him perversely safe to love: he'll never leave her, never get in trouble worse than what he's in now.

Paul is thus the film's most excruciating object, and his vegetative condition -- so resonant and so inexorable -- affects everyone. As Esther makes him the focus of her desperate devotion, Julie and his father (Robert Klein) withdraw in horror and guilt, and his girlfriend, Annette (excellent Patricia Clarkson), feels herself the object of everyone's accusations. She's not wrong, especially when it comes to the couple of girls who had crushes on Paul, now checking out his coma-penis under the covers and watching Annette through her bedroom window, across the yard.

The film's objects continue to accumulate: Annette's daughter Sam (Kristen Stewart) is bravely tending to her autistic sister (Haylee Wanstall), and bearing up under her mom's moodiness and drinking and her dad's astonishing selfishness (he comes to visit only to announce that he's marrying his decidedly unmaternal younger girlfriend, then accuses Annette of turning his children against him).

Sam focuses her energies on basketball and her lively best friend Sally (Charlotte Arnold), daughter of the wise and weary Helen (Mary Kay Place, who steals every scene she's in, as usual). They smoke cigarettes, they giggle, they share secrets. But for all her efforts to fashion a life for herself outside the pathologies of adults, Sam can't quite elude all damage. She's been turned into another sort of object by the local gardener, Randy (Timothy Olyphant), himself mourning a terrible loss and fixated on Sam, not for her, but for what he projects onto her.

For all the objectification and distraction going on in The Safety of Objects, one relationship does stand out. Taking a cue from his frightened and frustrated father Jim, young Jake Train (Alex House) has found the ideal target for his adoration, a Barbie-type doll named Tani (perfectly, and deviously, voiced by Guinevere Turner, star of Troche's first film, Go Fish). Technically, the doll belongs to Emily (Charly Chalom), but whenever Jake has a chance, he takes her away for a bit of kissy-face and lustful chatter.

While the film tends to offer these stolen moments as a kind of dire comedy, as when, in a family restaurant scene, he takes Tani under the table to converse, as his fellow diners look on in some distress. Jake is, of course, emulating behavior he's seen elsewhere, his father's for instance, treating people (his kids, his wife, his coworkers) like objects, unable to imagine they have feelings or needs commensurate to his own.

But beyond the like-father, like-son match, Jake also reflects most everyone in this neighborhood, and, the film implies, the extended community of self-involved individuals that comprises the burbs. This makes Jake's story funny, if you're feeling superior, and tragic, if you're feeling sympathetic. In any case, if you're feeling anything for someone who's not you, you're a step ahead.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.