24 December 2009 | beyondtheforest
View of an America Long Gone
This wonderful film contains a warm, nostalgic look back at the life of an ailing school teacher. As time and her illness progresses, Miss Dove, best known to the small town as a rigid and stiff disciplinarian, realizes the positive effects she has had on the people around her, and their love for her. Never married, childless Miss Dove finds purpose and contentment in her duty -- to repay her father's debt and thereby avoid a scandal, by working as a teacher, instead of marrying the man she loved.
The film has especially fine direction, performances, and an intelligent, multi-layered script. While Miss Dove appears a one-dimensional, humorless snob at the beginning of the film, the many layers of her story and personality are revealed throughout the course of the film. By the end, you realize why everyone is so fond of her.
Thinking back over this film, I was struck by the image in my mind of an America that seems to no longer exist. Healthy, proud, and affluent small towns, the belief in following one's duty in life instead of whims, and the sense of personal responsibility among these characters are so unusual to see in a modern film -- or modern life. There was a scene in which Miss Dove helped a bank avoid closing, a selfless, altruistic act that seemed so different than anything that could have occurred in the recent banking crisis.
Growing up in the 1980s, I think I was seeing the last of this generation fade away. Perhaps I still am. I remember writing a fan letter to Jennifer Jones years ago. I loved her then as I still do. I never considered it odd that she did not reply. She was a symbol of the grace and dignity of a long gone era. Noticing that she just passed away, I can't help but feel she passed away with the unfortunate changing of our culture, to the violent, seedy, and irresponsible. But what an enduring, magical film legacy she left behind.