For the Ladies – All That Heaven Allows

All That Heaven Allows 3

Cary’s children are everything a mother could be proud of, and they are horrible. Kay is an ardent Freudian who finds out quickly that her open-mindedness isn’t really that open when it comes to her mother romancing a younger man. She begs her mother to break it off when she thinks the cruel gossip spreading through town could jeopardize her own chances at a relationship. Where Kay is motivated by self-interest, son Ned is simply a prig. He just wants his mother to behave properly. Cary acquiesces to her children’s desires, because a good mother is supposed to put her children’s needs before her own, but this is soon proved pointless as Kay becomes engaged and Ned prepares to leave the country. All her sacrifice has given her is an empty house and a television she has long resisted as the last refuge of the lonely woman.

Cary’s role as lover is the central focus of the film. By letting herself feel for Ron, she casts off all ideas of what proper female behavior is. Ron shows her his simple, unconventional life, introduces her to his friends, and lets her come to her own decisions about what really matters. He challenges her to choose desire over convention, but he does not try to force her hand. If in the end, he is not as accommodating as he could be, she is also a coward. And she is right to be afraid. Not only will she have to deal with nasty gossip and a move down the social ladder, she will be forced to deal with the consequences that come from making her own decisions and admitting that she would rather experience authentic emotions than do what is proper. After half a lifetime of being a dutiful wife and mother, making such a drastic move signifies to the world that maybe not all of her needs are being met; marrying a younger man makes a clear statement in the parlance of the times that she is still very much interested in the passions of the flesh.

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Female friendships are also dealt with in all their complexity. Cary has a lot of social friends that she dislikes but puts up with, because it is much easier to just get along than risk suffering the revenge of a rejected gossip. When she meets Ron’s friends, she is surprised and pleased at their warmth and naturalness. But it is her relationship with best friend Sara where true friendship lies. Convention-bound Sara is perfectly happy with the status quo, but when her friend strays, she does not abandon her. Her solution, to try to introduce Ron into their group, doesn’t really work out, but not through a lack of trying. Their friendship is shown as a refuge from the malicious outside world; Sara questions Cary’s actions, but never doubts where her loyalty lies. Sirk allows Sara to help Cary break the rules instead of using her to push for more good behavior.

The ending of this movie is full of drama and over-blown sentiment, and I love it. To me, this film is Sirk’s greatest achievement; it manages to question that idea that women are fulfilled by familial self-sacrifice without losing any of its entertainment value. I’m not going to tell you what decision Cary makes in the end, please go and watch (or rewatch) it. It is a beautiful film and Sirk wields his Technicolor palette like a painter. I cannot imagine a better way to spend an evening than with this movie, a glass of wine, and a box of tissues.

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Adelaide enjoys watching all kinds of movies, but is never going to see Titanic unless there is a sizable amount of money involved.

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