I was in my late twenties when I first saw the movie All that Heaven Allows. It was a Valentine’s Day film festival on TV, and I was riveted by the film. In it, Jane Wyman, playing Cary Scott, is a widow who finds herself attracted to Ron Kirby, played by Rock Hudson. He owns a tree nursery and has taken over his father’s gardening and tree service business following his father’s death. They meet when Ron is trimming trees at Cary’s house. Ron is considerably younger than Cary, but social conventions aside, the two fall in love. The movie takes place at a time when it was unthinkable for such an age difference pairing. It gets complicated, but all is made right in the end.
The movie immediately became one of my favorites and has remained so over the many years since I first saw it. For a long time, it was a mystery to me why the movie resonated for me so much. Now, in my sixties, I have some perspective. Jane Wyman was born in 1917; Rock Hudson in 1925. Exactly what the age difference is meant to be in the movie, the scandal the pairing made suggests that it was intended to be at least that much. Actually, Jane Wyman was only thirty-eight and Hudson only thirty when they made that film. Wyman was hardly the middle-aged lady implied for her character.
In one scene, an old family friend has escorted Cary to an event, and as he stands with her at her door when he brings her home, he probes to see if she might be interested in marrying again, and in particular, marrying him. He is a fair bit older than her and overly occupied with the state of his health. He tells her that at their ages, romance is behind them and what they want is solid friendship. She is startled by his statement, and it is clear that friendship without romance is not what she wants for herself. She politely tells him she’s not ready to consider marriage again.
The palpable chemistry between Cary and Ron is all the more sweet on the heels of that off-kilter encounter with the family friend who sees her as little more than a companion. Ron sees her as companion and lover, and she is completely taken with him.
I watch All that Heaven Allows several times a year, and when I found myself in online dating mode, it seemed to call to me more than usual. Had the universe sent me breadcrumbs to find my way home? Had it done so when I was still in my twenties, knowing I would need them when I was in my sixties?
As outlandish as it seemed, I could not quite shake the idea of it. The men most suitable for me where seven to ten years younger than me. Cary struggled with the fact that Ron was so much younger than her, particularly within the context of a society that she knew frowned on the match. There are moments in the film when she seems surprised and even mystified that this man is interested in her. Would I find myself in a similar position? Most of the men my age and even several years younger just did not have my level of vigor and robustness, nor did they seem as engaged in life as me. The majority of the men I was dating were, in fact, younger than me. At some point in my travels with an open heart, would I look into the eyes of a much younger man, clearly in love, mystified by the fact that he is clearly in love with me too?
The gulf between Cary and Ron is not just one of age, it is also one of social standing and lifestyle. Cary’s social circle has material means and status. Ron lives a simple life. Discontented with the superficiality of her social circle, Cary sees through and past it with increasing clarity the longer she knows Ron, and she seems to long for a simple, wholesome life.
I was already there where simplicity and wholesomeness of life were concerned, and I was already on board with the idea of a younger man. Had I been so entranced by the film for so many years because it would one day play itself out in my life? Or was I hallucinating a connection between me and the film? I didn’t know, but I was willing to let my unfolding life give me the answer.
Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall