#295. All That Heaven Allows (1956)

There’s a passage in All That Heaven Allows where Rock Hudson, after a bad fall, is convalescing at home, unconscious on the couch for several days, and he’s being tended, with lush ambient vibes, by his scorned lover, played by Jaen Wyman, whose ministrations during this time are shot in such a way, and accompanied by such a score, that the whole thing feels very tender and picturebook and beautiful—but I keep thinking about the fact that he’s probably gonna shit in his sleep, right? Isn’t that what happens when you’re in a coma? How is she dealing with his feces? All That Heaven Allows is a romantic melodrama and so of course it’s not gonna concern itself with such things because, well, I guess melodrama is more like poetry than prose. It’s about the heartfelt essence of a feeling. It explores the heart—and no other part of the body.

Wyman sitting vigil over a comatose Hudson.

            I liked the movie quite a bit, it’s a good story and it looks beautiful, but this portrait of a single mother in middle age who falls in love with her gardener, who’s much younger, and who thus, as a result of the direction in which her heart has compelled her, is having to brave lots of dicey social consequences—that whole portrait rang my bell pretty hard because it got me thinking of my mom, who left my dad a few years ago and, pursuing her career, fled to a new life a few counties over, which of course was a very difficult thing to do, admirable and risky and honest, but it’s something I haven’t totally completely reconciled, nor is it something I really know how to address either inwardly or outwardly, and so I’d say that if there are two big shadows in my life that I very rarely address, if at all, and that might possibly be working some emotional corrosion under my mind’s blankets, it’s (1) my parent’s divorce, about which I think I’m deep-down and senselessly just still very very angry, and (2) my drinking, which ebbs and flows (pun!), and this movie feels kinda precious to me for the way that it does that tricky troublesome thing that art sometimes manages: it prompted me to confront myself.

It didn’t help me to resolve anything, which I guess is fine, but because I’ve got these parent issues, and the movie’s handling of themes about love and parenting are handled with naked melodrama, I guess I’m just particularly receptive to it—and this, from an artist’s perspective, should be a warming affirmation of the fact that, however osensibly weird or niche your subject matter, there’s almost definitely an audience out there that’s shared your experience and for whom the work will really sing.

            Anyway. A theme that’s always resonated with me, outside of (and of course certainly within) my own parent-child dynamic, is the idea of what parents sacrifice for their kids, which is explored here int ehw ay that Wyman’s conflicted love for Hudson is attacked by social and domestic pressures: her kids essentially want her to be a spinster, her peers expect her to be with someone of a similar social status. The kids get her a TV set in which Sirk presents us with her harrowed reflection, seeing in that newfangled picturebox her own sedate and loveless future.

            It feels heroic and great when she tells her kids, finally, “I love you but fuckoff,” or something like that.

            If a person’s gonna claim their agency by pursuing their agency in some direction counter to what their parents would like them to do, and the parents are expected to deal with it, to support that pursuit of happiness, well, I guess it cuts both ways.

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