Todd Haynes’s eerie medical thriller shows us that our environment has finally turned against us. Carol, a typical upper middle-class housewife, begins to complain of vague symptoms of illness. She “doesn’t feel right,” has unexplained headaches, congestion, a dry cough, nosebleeds, vomiting, and trouble breathing. Her family doctor treats her concerns dismissively and suggests a psychiatrist. Eventually, an allergist tells her that she has Environmental Illness. Her body is rebelling against the overload that her immune system has to deal with, as she is continually exposed to all of the chemicals that we inhale, ingest, and absorb daily. The pollution in our air, pesticides on our food, and toxins in our water, are collectively overwhelming her defenses. The ubiquitous sprays, creams, and emollients used to beautify have become deadly poisons to her. In essence, she has become allergic to the Twentieth Century. She sees Wrenwood as her only salvation, a New Agey center run (quite profitably) by Peter, a clichéd, easy-talking, demagogic guru. Unsettling and ambiguous, we are never sure about each character’s hidden agenda, as they revolve around Carol, a timid, frightened pawn, overwhelmed by her condition.
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