All That Heaven Allows

All That Heaven Allows is a 1955 Hollywood melodrama directed by Douglas Sirk starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. Cary Scott (Wyman) is a well-to-do fortyish widow in the town of Stoningham, in suburban New England, who becomes interested in Ron Kirby (Hudson), a nurseryman who takes care of her trees. Ron, content with his simple life outside the materialistic society in which they live, has decided to stop with his maintenance work and start growing trees. When they fall in love, Cary has concerns about the viability of their relationship, due to their different ages, social classes and lifestyles. At the end of the film, Cary decides to break with the artificial, death-in-life atmosphere of the upper middle class she’s part of. She no longer wants to run away from life and settles in with Ron’s rebuilt old mill out in the woods.

All That Heaven Allows echoes the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) in its characters, themes, setting, and visual style. During a visit to the tree farm of Ron’s friends Mick and Alida, Cary finds a book that Alida tells her is the key to understanding Ron’s inner peace: Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854). Although Alida thinks Ron has never read the book, “he just lives it”. Ron is not interested in money nor an important position, “to thine own self be true [be true to yourself], that’s Ron”. This scene is a turning point in the film, for Cary only then realizes she can choose for new way of life, one not bounded by the Stoningham Country Club and its rigid protocols of behavior. In another striking scene Cary insists that she is not ready yet to retreat to the somnolent comfort of the television set, despite the insistence of her friends and family that it is the best refuge for lonely women. Rejecting the television set’s artificial screen company and drama, she chooses for Ron’s world of love and happiness.

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