The Safety of Objects

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The Safety of Objects
Safety of objects.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rose Troche
Produced by
  • Dorothy Berwin
  • Christine Vachon
Written by
Music by
Cinematography Enrique Chediak
Edited by Geraldine Peroni
  • Clear Blue Sky
  • Renaissance Films
  • Infilm
  • Killer Films
Distributed by IFC Films
Release dates
  • April 24, 2001 (2001-04-24)
Running time
121 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Language English
Box office $319,299[1]

The Safety of Objects is a 2001 American drama film based upon a collection of short stories of the same name written by A. M. Homes and published in 1990. It features four suburban families who find that their lives become intertwined. The film was directed by Rose Troche, who co-wrote the screenplay with Homes. It touches upon many issues of the human experience in life. There are about 15 major characters in the film.

Perhaps most notable is the character Esther Gold, played by Glenn Close. She is the mother of several children, including a son in a coma from a car accident. The other characters are related to the accident either directly or indirectly. As the film's story continues, the audience learns that all of the characters are connected in ways that they never knew.

Plot summary[edit]

In a suburban neighborhood, Paul Gold (Joshua Jackson) lies in his bedroom in a coma, caused by a traumatic car accident. He is cared for by his mother, Esther (Glenn Close) who in tending him closely has distanced herself from her husband Howard (Robert Klein) and teenage daughter Julie (Jessica Campbell). Trying to elicit her mother's attention, Julie enters Esther in a local radio contest, in hopes of winning a brand new car.

Meanwhile, after years of putting his job first, Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) feels his family, especially his efficient wife Susan (Moira Kelly), no longer needs him. He tries to reconnect with his son Jake (Alex House), on the edge of puberty, but the youth is preoccupied with romantic fantasies about his younger sister's twelve-inch plastic doll. After Jim is skipped over for a promotion, he stops going to work, claiming that a bomb threat was called into his office. Feeling unappreciated by his family, he convinces Esther and Julie to let him help them win the car.

The Trains' neighbor, Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place), feeling older and less desirable, tries new products to keep her feeling young. She succeeds only in alienating her husband, who loves her as she is.

Helen's good friend, Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson), in the midst of a messy divorce, struggles to provide financially for her two daughters. Sam (Kristen Stewart), the older tomboyish daughter, is desperate to go off to camp that summer. Sam's younger sister suffers from mental disabilities and requires special schooling, which her father, Annette's ex-husband, refuses to pay for. Annette is also mourning the loss of Paul, with whom she was having a relationship. Randy (Timothy Olyphant), the neighborhood's landscaper, is coping (poorly) with his own younger brother's death in the same car accident that grievously injured Paul Gold.

Annette's ex-husband comes to visit his daughters. He says that he wants to take Sam on a holiday. Annette refuses because Sam isn't interested in spending time with her father, and her ex-husband does not want to care for the younger daughter. Sam overhears their argument and runs away from her father when he tries to talk to her at the park. Soon she bumps into Randy, who tells her that her mom instructed him to pick her up.

Randy takes Sam to a remote cabin in the woods and keeps her there, not allowing her to call home. He calls her 'Johnny', after his late brother. After what appears to be three days, Randy starts driving back to the suburb, to recreate the night when the characters' lives intersected. When the beer he asks Sam to hand him doesn't explode, he appears to realize that the person in the back seat is Sam, not his brother.

Esther eventually gets to the final two slots in the radio contest, only to pull out at the last moment after nearly three days of physical and emotional taxation. Julie becomes angry and runs off. Jim, angry at what he feels is an inadequate second-place prize, becomes violent and wrecks the area. He gets chased off by Bobby, Helen's son, who works as the mall security guard. Esther, who finally realizes how much she has neglected her daughter, goes home and tearfully suffocates her son. Jim returns to his home, and Randy lets Sam go home. Helen almost cheats on her husband, but eventually returns home without having taken that step.

A flashback reveals the cause of the car crash: Randy, Paul, and Randy's younger brother Johnny were traveling in a car after a gig that Paul's band played. Johnny gave Randy and Paul beers which he had shaken, and they exploded when opened, on Paul who was driving. Another car, carrying Julie and Bobby, came from the opposite direction, speeding to rush Julie home after an impromptu tryst so she would not get in trouble for violating her curfew. Both drivers became distracted, both cars had to swerve, and Paul's car crashed and flipped over. The guilt that has consumed both Randy and Julie throughout the film, is shown to have originated from each taking blame for the crash.

The final scenes of the movie show the characters acknowledging their heightened understandings of the effects of these events in their lives and their choices, and lastly, the interconnectedness of these families.



Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 49% of 74 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 5.9/10. The site's consensus reads: "The large cast of characters and scripting are too unwieldy, and the suburban angst theme feels tired."[2] Metacritic rated it 58/100 based on 29 reviews.[3] Eddie Cockrell of Variety called it a "masterful" film with "a refreshing lack of cynicism and irony".[4] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated it 2/4 stars and called it "a literate soap opera".[5] A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that Trouche "assembles the damaged human elements of Ms. Homes's world with patience and precision, and more often than not chooses dry understatement over easy satire or obvious sentiment".[6] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "In short, The Safety of Objects is so intense emotionally that had it come in half an hour earlier it could have retained far greater impact."[7] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "a noble attempt that doesn't hang together".[8]


  1. ^ "The Safety of Objects". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  2. ^ "The Safety of Objects (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  3. ^ "The Safety of Objects". Metacritic. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  4. ^ Cockrell, Eddie (2001-09-14). "Review: 'The Safety Of Objects'". Variety. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (2003-03-07). "The Safety of Objects". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  6. ^ Scott, A. O. (2003-03-07). "Interrelated Shards of Suburban Pathology". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  7. ^ Thomas, Kevin (2003-03-07). "No 'Safety' from everyday perils". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 
  8. ^ LaSalle, Mick (2003-03-07). "The Safety of Objects". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2015-05-07. 

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