Domestic violence is a tragic reality for far too many women throughout our world. That the person who holds your heart in his hand can turn that hand against you in anger is devastating to body, mind and spirit. But the possibility of finding healing in the arms of a person who truly cherishes you is the message of Lasse Halstrom’s Safe Haven. Demonstrating once again his masterful ability to tell a story as he did in Chocolat, Cider House Rules and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Halstrom takes us this time inside the fearful loneliness of abuse and the healing power of love.
The central character in need of a safe haven is Katie (Julianne Hough). Using flashbacks to reveal the terror of her abuse and the circumstances of her flight, we quickly realize the reason for her desperation: her abusive husband is a police detective. As is most often the case, her husband Tierney (David Lyons) is an alcoholic whose anger is fueled by his addiction and one night he is so abusive that Katie stabs him and flees. Using all the resources of his position as a detective and several illegal means as well, Tierney is determined to track her down.
Serendipitously, Katie gets off the bus in a scenic seaside town before she reaches her destination of Atlanta from Boston. It is this decision that proves to give her temporary safety and long-term healing.
The healing comes through the love of Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower whose two children are dealing with the loss of their mother in two different ways. His daughter Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) was too young to remember well her mother’s passing from cancer. But his son Josh (Noah Lomax) remembers his mother well and is drowning in a lonely anger. It is into this lonely and hurting family that Katie providentially enters.
Although the romance and the climax of the suspense are predictable, the love is palpable. From the fearful flight of Katie to the lonely grief of Alex, their immediate mutual attraction brings them together into a strong bond. Helped along in their relationship by an unusual source, they find in each other exactly what they both need.
That women who are in abusive relationships need to find safety in loving relationships is a worthy message to proclaim. That it is especially difficult to escape when the abusive person has a powerful or prestigious position also needs to be acknowledged. But just as Katie discovered when she fled, there are helpful neighbors and caring people who will support those who decide to build a new life. That message of hope is needed and makes this film meaningful.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Do you know anyone who you suspect is experiencing domestic violence? What are you doing - or willing to do - to help provide safety?
2. When alcohol creates a violent reaction, do you think society has a right to forbid such a person from drinking? Why do you answer as you do?
3. In a film that provides the ultimate consequence for the abuser, as this one does, do you believe it in someway justifies violence? What response to abuse is justified in real life?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.