Sunday, January 8, 2012

Don't Make a Scene: Places in the Heart

We start the new year with endings—what I ironically call "Happy Endings."  They are not entirely happy, they might even be tragic, but those last frames hang in the air, changing the dozens of minutes that preceded them, perfect endings for what has gone before.  A Warning: these scenes, coming as they do at the end, are so SPOILERIFIC, that seeing them, without the accompanying film, will, at the very least, leave you guessing and confused, and at the most, ruin the entire movie for you.  If you have not seen this movie, read no further, but instead, seek out this film.  You won't regret it.

The Set-Up: Unfortunately, what most people know Places in the Heart for is Sally Field's second (and very deserved) win of the Oscar for Best Actress in 1984, and her blurted exposition of "I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!" in her acceptance speech.  It takes away slightly from the terrific movie that Robert Benton shaped from the wheat and chaff of his boyhood days in Depression-era Texas, and that Field holds together as its center.

The movie begins with the fracturing of a family and a community—the town's Sheriff, Edna's husband is killed, horrifically and accidentally, when a town kid, drunk and randomly discharging a firearm, squeezes the trigger when the gun is pointing at him.  Subsequently, the boy is lynched by town-folk, his body presented to Edna in a perverse show of community support and "justice."

Nothing is the same.  Events, natural and unnatural, whirl to throw hurdles at the family and the community's existence, and the story ends at a town gathering place—church—where everyone comes together and Benton ties the story up in a neat bow.

The film ends with one of the most startling (and, for me, haunting) expressions of life, death, Love and Faith.  At the communion breaking of bread and drinking of wine, the camera pans along the celebrants in a kind of roll-call of characters, and if one is paying close attention, one notices that the church-pews might be a bit more crowded than they were in the preceding long-shots of the church interior.  But, it isn't until the the shot reaches the character of Moze sitting and communing in the segregated church.

"What's Moze doing there?"  We'd just seen Danny Glover's character leave the farm for good, so what's he doing in the Church?  Did he come back?  Obviously, there's a scene missing, where...etc.

It's troubling.  Troubling enough that you might gloss over the fact that John Malkovich's character, who doesn't seem particularly religious, is sitting with the Spaldings.  We pause at Edna, and at that point, the film pivots and turns in the direction of the surreal...and of Faith.  Sitting next to Edna is her slain husband, Sheriff Royce Spalding, killed at the very beginning of the movie and whose death shapes the events that make the movie, who takes the sacrificial wine, the blood of Christ, and hands it to Wylie, the young man who mistakenly killed him, and was subsequently lynched by a mob of Waxahachie men-folk. 

We don't see Moze or Royce or Wylie in the long shot; they are not there and are either dead or missing in action.  But, as the scriptures says, love never ends, and their presence is there, their spirit, their place in the community.

And in the heart.

The Story: "What's going to happen to us?"

Waxahachie, Texas, 1935.  The death of her husband forces Edna Spalding (Sally Field) to seek other forms of income to keep her family in their home.  She hires a share-cropper (Danny Glover) to oversee the planting of cotton in her field, hoping to win the bonus for bringing in the first crop.  She rents a room to the blind brother-in-law (John Malkovich) of the town's banker who holds her home's mortgage. Events splinter some and galvanize others, and as school teacher Viola Kelesey and her husband (Amy Madigan, Terry O'Quinn) leave for Houston and a new life, the church they pass hold Edna and her household, as well as Margaret Lomax (Lindsay Crouse) and her husband Wayne (Ed Harris)—with whom Viola was having an affair, and affair that Margaret has only recently discovered.

Action!


"This is my story, this is my..."

"...song, Praising my..."

"...Savior..."

"all the day long..."

"This is my story..."

"This is my song..."

"Praising my Savior..."

"..All the day long."

PREACHER:  This morning we take our text from First Corinthians, the thirteenth chapter, versus 1 through 8.

PREACHER: "Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels and have not love, I am become of a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal"

PREACHER: "And though I have the gift of prophecy and all knowledge and have not love, I am nothing."

PREACHER: "And though I bestow all my gifts to feed the poor..."

PREACHER: "...And have not love..."

PREACHER: "It profiteth me nothing."

PREACHER: "Love is patient..."

PREACHER: "...kind. Love is not jealous or boastful."

PREACHER: "Love never ends."

"I come to the garden alone"

"While the dew is still on the roses"
PREACHER: "On the night before his crucifixion"

"And the voice I hear, falling on my ear"
PREACHER: "Our Lord gathered with his disciples"


"The Son of God discloses"
PREACHER: "He broke the bread and blessed it."

PREACHER: "Saying 'Take, eat, this is my body.'"

PREACHER: "And He took the cup and said 'Drink, this is my blood, which I shed for thee.'"

"And He walks with me"

COMMUNICANT: The Peace of God...

"And He talks with me"

"And He tells me I am His own"

"And the joy we share as we tarry there"

"None other has ever known"
COMMUNICANT: The Peace of God...

"He speaks and the sound"

"of His voice"

"Is so sweet the birds hush their singing"

"And the melody"

"that He gave to me"

"Within my heart is ringing"
FRANK SPALDING: The Peace of God.

EDNA SPALDING: The Peace of God.

"And He walks with me"

"And He talks with me"

"And He tells me"
SHERIFF ROYCE SPALDING: The Peace of God.

"I am His own"

WYLIE: The Peace of God.


"And the joy we share as we tarry there"

"None other..."

"has ever known"


Places in the Heart

Words by Robert Benton

Pictures by Nestor Almendros and Robert Benton

Places in the Heart is available on DVD from Sony Home Entertainment.


1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Oh, damn, THIS movie! Deliberate with its manipulation, but I can't help being moved and this ending is just ACE! And, damn, why didn't Amy Madigan get the Oscar nod over Lindsay? And why didn't she get a better career? I remember the moment I realised that the dead were showing up and I was so...moved.