In Brian Helgeland’s 42 and Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven, the ideology of the time and setting in both films compare and contrast in strikingly similar ways, such as through sexual orientation, race, and gender issues. In 42, the main character Jackie Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman, paves the way for African Americans to play Major League Baseball. Robinson is thrown into the spotlight where he struggles with racist teammates, fans, and even managers. The film tracks his career from the minors to the majors as well as all of the internal and external battles he faces both on and off the diamond. Haynes’ Far from Heaven is set during the same time period; however, it focuses on the tribulations of a high-class Connecticut family. The themes involved in Far from Heaven center around sexual orientation, race and gender, while 42 is more racially charged and full of the struggles faced by African Americans.
Helgeland’s 42 accurately depicts what not only Robinson was facing, but what his race was facing during the time period. The ideology during this time was in no way accepting of a black ballplayer. Helgeland created a storm around Robinson that included angry mobs, racist fans, and unforgiving teammates and players who he would constantly have to put up with. Helgeland had to balance two incredible things in the film, America’s pastime and an era of racism. Film Comment describes the task that the director or 42 was faced with. “Director Brian Helgeland’s struggle comes in balancing the intricacies of a baseball game with a very uncomplicated chronicle of barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson. We follow Robinson’s rapid ascension through the minor leagues and into the bigs through a series of encounters with alternately enlightened and bigoted ballplayers, managers and fans. America’s postwar racism seems to fall along geographic lines—most (not all!) people south of Brooklyn have serious bones to pick with Robinson’s inclusion, and the Dodgers slowly form a protective shell around their star rookie.” This protective shell is where the film’s “feel good” ideology about racism and accepting people as equals comes into play. 42 places Boseman in a horrible, unforgiving environment, only to have the horrible folks around him develop into forgiving people. Racism is not an easy concept to simply incorporate into a film, yet Helgeland does that and more as 42 tracks the progress of not only Robinson as a person, but baseball fans and players as people too.
Far from Heaven also features the development of characters dealing with racism, and includes issues regarding gender and class in a middle to upper class society. The beliefs that come from Far from Heaven are negative towards African Americans, women, as well as homosexuals. The Film Journal commends Haynes’ ability to create a story true to the time period, with all of the racism and hatred that went along with it. They write, “What Haynes does that makes this film special is facing the issues exactly as a filmmaker of the time would likely face them. Not only does his style reflect the period, so does the films moral code. It is a nifty trick, but not as nifty as the way the film becomes more than an experiment – it becomes a truly moving story of one woman’s struggle for self-definition.” This woman, Kathy Whitaker, is at the center of the storm of every hate filled scenario in the film. Between her being portrayed as a typical stay at home wife, and her marriage to a man living a lie in regards to his sexuality, she is made the focal point of the film’s ideological lesson. To make things worse, Kathy Whitaker is also looked down upon for being seen out in public with an African American. Her relationship with Raymond Deagan (see fig. 1) is what brings the film’s ideological lesson together in that love and compassion trumps the cloud of stereotypes and social norms.
42 and Far from Heaven both capture the development of societies living in a prejudice era. Both films challenge racism head on through the tribulations of the main characters in each film, Jackie Robinson and Kathy Whitaker. The leading, differing factor in these two films is simply the types of hatred and scenarios in which the main characters are faced to live through. Robinson is faced with breaking the color barrier during a time where a black man on a professional baseball diamond was unheard of. He faced racism from a large part of the nation, whereas Kathy Whitaker only experienced racism in a small Connecticut town. Whitaker also had to deal with a dilemma involving her husband’s sexual orientation, which was severely looked down upon in her 1950s society. According to Bright Lights Film, Director Todd Haynes said, “We followed those narrative steps while laying evidence of the values attributed to that self-knowledge, that growth, that realization, against the viewer.” Their goal was to use Whitaker as the focal point of discrimination in order for the audience to see that her growth signified the development of people seeing each other as equals. Despite the difference in level of national attention in which Robinson and Whitaker received, their circumstances were quite similar as far as them being helpless in a world of odium. They both made personal decisions in their lives, which society disagreed with. However, the message of both film reigns true in that racism and hatred can be overcome with willpower and strength.
Helgeland’s 42 and Haynes’ Far from Heaven differ slightly in their representation of the ideology in each film, however; they both convey the same message about overcoming the hatred and racism in society. 42 challenges racism by showing Robinson in all aspects of his life, instead of just his actions on the field. This decision helped capture the hearts of audience members and evoked emotion out of them as they witnessed Jackie’s internal and external struggles with his race. Similarly, Kathy Whitaker deals with folks looking down upon her being seen in public with an African American man. She only differs from Robinson in that she also has to deal with another situation regarding her husband’s sexual orientation. The ideology in both films is successfully presented and developed before it undergoes a change. Although Far from Heaven doesn’t feature a transformation of the ideology in Whitaker’s small town in Connecticut, it illustrates that there’s hope for a change in the future. Both films collectively show hope for society’s future in terms of making hate and discrimination a thing in the past.