All That Heaven Allows: A Review

All that heaven allows posterAll that Heaven Allows is a film ahead of its time. This film, from 1955, is subversive and progressive, and arguably deals with issues that would still cause societal problems today. The movie follows the relationship of two characters who have a dramatic age gap. Despite their obvious chemistry and longing for each other, the society around them refuses to accept that such a relationship can exist outside some kind of deviancy.

The driving taboo is that an older, widowed woman, played by Jane Wyman, is dating a younger man, played by Rock Hudson. Many of the characters refuse to accept that women can make informed decisions for themselves, and often try to direct the choices of our lead character. It is unfortunate that even as recently as 1955, the ideas presented in the movie seemed new and potentially offensive.

The movie is scathingly critical of the opinions and expectations of Wyman’s peers, while still having the grace to not paint them as frothing-at-the-mouth villains. The characters’ opinions demonstrate how pervasive and ingrained indoctrination can be. Wyman’s children in the film are the most outwardly offended at her decision to date Hudson. Her successful son will not even entertain the idea that his widowed mother could engage with a young man. Not only does he express his opinion on the matter, but he orders her to stop seeing the younger man as though it was his decision to make. Wyman’s daughter is portrayed as a hypocrite. The daughter is a college student majoring in sociology. She freely and proudly espouses feminist ideals until she is made aware of her mother’s relationship, at which point she reveals how deeply ingrained her traditional expectation of a woman’s role in society is by condemning the relationship and lamenting her embarrassment over it.

These characters aren’t bad people, and that isn’t the message that the movie is trying to send. Rather, the movie is criticizing group think. The movie does, importantly, end with Wyman’s family accepting the relationship, and her peers backing off of her. This ending is so important, because it reveals the optimism of the movie. The film demonstrates that people are bigoted and hateful because societal pressure has forced them to be, not that they are inherently. By showing that the characters have come to accept the taboo relationship, the movie shows that people can change, and that when someone is personally confronted with things that are foreign to them, their care for their friends or family will ultimately win out over untested abstract beliefs.

Looking back on the movie, it is clear that the role must have been very personal for Rock Hudson. Hudson was an in-the-closet man at the time, and there is little doubt that the American public would not have accepted him as a gay man. Acting in a movie about a taboo relationship must have inspired his excellent performance, especially scenes where he has angry outbursts towards those who claim to understand his relationship with Wyman.

All in all, the movie is excellent. The actors are great, the film looks great, and the message is timeless and daring. I would recommend this movie to anyone with an interest in gender politics. Five Stars.

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