All That Heaven Allows

Yesterday I switched on the TV at lunchtime, and came upon the midday movie, All That Heaven Allows. It was made in 1955 starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. The story is about a widow with two grown up children and a conventional life in a conservative town who falls in love with her gardener. Of course he isn’t just any old gardener, he is an ex-advertising executive with a passion for growing trees who has given up the rat race to live simply as a landscape designer. (And he is Rock Hudson!).

The film explores the choice between a life of simplicity vs a more conventional life seeking wealth and success. Jane Wyman’s character is torn between her ordinary small town life and country club friends, and her love of this unconventional man and what he represents. The drama is derived from the opposition to the match, from her so-called friends, and her children. Of course it all ends happily ever after when she shakes off convention to be with the man she loves (sigh!)

What was fascinating about this movie is how relevant it is to the conversations we are having to day about simplicity and minimalism. I was surprised that a movie that is over 50 years old had such an apparently contemporary theme. But the tension between choosing simplicity and striving for wealth and conventional forms of success has been going on for thousands of years. At one point, Jane Wyman reads aloud from Thoreau’s Walden, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation…” It suggests an emerging group who are choosing a different lifestyle informed by simplicity.

Even today people choosing a simpler lifestyle face many of the challenges confronted in this movie, such as fear of being judged by others, actually being judged by others, concerns about the impact on children (even grown up children), and what to do with the large family home that is no longer needed. There is also the issue of loyalty to the memory of her dead husband to be addressed. There are questions about the meaning of success, and what is important in life.

I hope that society is more tolerant in 2012 than the world depicted in small town USA in the 1950’s. But I suspect that conservatism and the need to meet social expectation still has a strong grip in many peoples lives. This is a great movie to get you thinking if you are interested in simplicity and minimalism and the impact of these lifestyle choices on relationships with family and friends.

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