From the title, All That Heaven Allows (1955) sounds a bit soppy, but there’s much more to this than the title suggests. In fact, this movie is loaded with symbolism and social critique from quite a lot of varied angles.
On the surface, here’s what we see: widow Cary has two children getting ready to graduate from college, only coming home occassionally. She’s lonely and has only superficial society friends who talk behind each others’ backs, but that’s the world she and her children know. She’s used to it, although she doesn’t seem to enjoy it. Cue the tall, handsome young landscaper, Ron, who veered off his expected path and is still single at a time when people married young right out of school. He does what he wants, doesn’t care for money, and ignores other people’s judgments of him. He is true to himself, which is a new concept to Cary and everyone else in her circles.
Sounds like a pretty obvious setup, right? Here’s what you need to know: the setup isn’t the point. It’s everything surrounding it that matters.
My favorite symbol in this whole movie – and there are lots of symbols in it – is the TV set. TV is mentioned several times
throughout the movie as a cure for loneliness, something to keep a woman company when she has no husband. It’s supposed to be a solution to the problem of having nothing to do and no one to talk to. I’m not going to give anything away about the movie, but when Cary’s kids decide to move on with their lives and leave her behind, they think a TV is the solution to everything. Now Mom won’t be lonely! With the turn of a switch, she can have all kinds of people in her living room, whether they’re on gameshows or dramas or commercials. Yes, the TV will take the place of the kids AND the dead husband.
In All That Heaven Allows, the TV set is something dead, something without a heartbeat, of course. Ultimately, if you watch and listen closely, you’ll find that it is equated to the superficial society group that also has no feelings and no care for anyone in the world but themselves. Just as a TV cannot take provide the warmth and comfort of human contact, people who care nothing for you can make you feel lonely in a crowded room. Both the TV and the false friendships are shallow and only for entertainment purposes. They are projections of life instead of actually living it. And so a physical object that is at your disposal 24/7 is just the same as humans following cookie cutter molds of what they think they should be, what makes them appear social and higher up on the class scale, but provides no warmth or depth, no love or true affection – no meaning to life. And the fact that Cary’s children are the ones who think a TV set will make up for their departure shows what she has inadvertently raised: more of the very society that shuns Ron, who is the essence of warmth, care, and living life to the fullest.
If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I recommend it not necessarily for the plot line but for everything surrounding it. I know that for film buffs, this is a major mark of where melodramas started in addition to several film techniques, but true to form my heart lies with the symbolism and metaphors in All That Heaven Allows. Tell me what you find in the film too! I’d love to hear your conclusions.