All That Heaven Allows

Douglas Sirk, USA, 1955, Ciné Sorbonne


Carey, played by Jane Wyman, is starting to emerge from the shadow of her widowhood. Her gardener, played by Rock Hudson, invites her to come out and see her nursery garden and she accepts. There she discovers a unique, paradisiacal setting, far from the isolated pavilions where she’d been leading a monotonous existence. The autumnal colours envelop the scene with a profound sense of melancholy while nature, with the trickling sound of the burn, draws a typically romantic scene. It a sacred place of emotions, set outside of social time. The slow rhythms of the natural world, the sprouting of the pine trees, is in opposition to the world of men. It is a place to relearn patience and humility. The surprising wide shot of the characters approaching the mill has something other about it. We could have let them pass unnoticed from the previous pan, but this shot deliberately places them in a universe larger than themselves, on a journey they may not actually have chosen to take. Their entry into the mill draws on a wide range of clichés, the door creaks to the vibrato of strings and cobwebs in the foreground. Ron quietly pushes them away, and the flute regains dominance. This misleading representation of things reflects Carey’s vision. In this sacred childhood space, where Ron’s grandfather worked with the wheel, she behaves as if a tourist. She maintains a bourgeois curiosity, her assumptions remaining unchallenged even in this unknown territory, with her hands plunged into the depths of her big coat.  She confidently climbs up the stairs, paying no heed to Ron’s warning – it’s not only the dust that must be paid attention to, but also the intimate and secret properties of the space. Ron hasn’t been upstairs since he was a boy, as it’s tied into a bygone era that can’t be revisited. Carey’s fall is her punishment, as if she bumped into an invisible door. As the shots draw closer in on Carey she can no longer birl about in all directions, unlike in the wide shots where the camera followed her dominant movements. She becomes aware of her inappropriate and superficial behaviour. The place has put its spell on her, and Carey finally lets it be known that all of this is not hers. Accepting that she doesn’t have dominance over this space, to say that it is another’s space opens up the potential for the development of a love story, or at least a kiss. The place returns later in the story, specially set up for them by Ron, with a fire and a repaired teapot.