All That Heaven Allows

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All That Heaven Allows (1957) questions the social and political consensus that is often seen as a defining characteristic of 1950s America. Beneath this consensus, the film suggests, there dwelt a profound social anxiety concerning issues of gender and class. Gender and class divide people and distribute power and authority in the film. What appears as consensus is revealed to be a forced conformity, subordinating individual wills and aspirations to the dictates of social stability.

Cary lives a life of affluence, with a large, well-decorated house, nice clothes, and a country-club membership. Ron is her flannel-wearing gardener. The class distinction is perhaps most evident when comparing the party scenes at the homes of Mick (Ron’s friend) and Sara (Cary’s friend). Mick’s guests are either working class or artists, none of whom display the trappings of wealth. Mick’s apartment is one room with attached kitchen, heated by a large fireplace (over which they cook dinner) and lit by a wide skylight. The natural light and heat imply an authenticity to the existence of Mick and his friends. This authenticity is also suggested by the use of close-up shots giving the audience a more direct experience of the revelers. Each guest brings something to the party, which involves joyous dancing and ends with a group feast, a traditional celebration of community. In contrast, Sara’s party takes place in her large, fashionably decorated house. There is no natural lighting, and the people are all dressed in fancy clothes, exhibiting an artificiality in contrast to the authenticity of Mick’s house. The shot selection tends to stay at a medium shot, keeping the audience at a distance from the party-goers, and reinforcing the lack of authenticity. There is neither dancing nor feasting. It is a cocktail party in which people huddle together to gossip and judge. One group of men mock Ron before he arrives for his lack of money, while the young bride who is the guest...
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