A friend sent me an article about a helmet you can buy that creates its own microclimate of filtered, customized air. It inspired me to rewatch Safe, Todd Haynes’s 1995 film about a woman who becomes allergic to the modern world and maybe her life. She develops nosebleeds and has seizures. She blames the polluted air and the chemicals in the carpet. After joining a hermetic community in a “toxin-free zone” somewhere in New Mexico, she listens to their charismatic leader give speeches about cultural illness. They stop reading the papers and watching the news—not to protect their minds, but their immune systems. Everything is poison. She lives in a spare room like a prison cell, safe at last.

Twenty-five years later, this ambiguous film is no longer a cinematic metaphor now that the air is far more likely to infect us with a new disease. We wonder what it will take to feel safe. But it’s also a reminder that 1995 believed the modern world was poisonous. So did 1895. “Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things,” said the designer William Morris, “the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization.” But I struggle to reconcile anxiety as a relative condition with the fact that the world is genuinely, objectively more insane.

Communes and off-grid living. Strange how the desire to flee the world is so deeply associated with cult logic. And sometimes it’s difficult to tell which way of living is more irrational.