14 August 2007 | bkoganbing
Our Own Blessed Assurance Of A Beautiful Garden Of Fellowship
When Robert Benton wrote and directed Places in the Heart he created his own Citizen Kane. Like Orson Welles he will spend the rest of his life trying to better it and won't succeed.
Places in the Heart takes place in Waxahachie, Texas in 1935 and our director was born there in 1932. The film is a personal vision of his childhood in that small Texas town. It bears a whole lot of resemblance to To Kill a Mockingbird, except that the adult protagonist is not a widower lawyer, but the widowed wife of a sheriff left to fend for herself after her husband is killed.
Benton creates his characters with a loving hand, but that does not mean he doesn't see the flaws in the people there, the racism, the sexism, the hypocrisy and the pettiness. Field's husband, Ray Baker, is killed by a drunken black man accidentally. Killing a law enforcement official probably would have gotten him legally executed in any event, but the town administers its own brand of justice to the perpetrator.
That being said, it still doesn't solve the problem of a woman who has no education or training to support herself and her family. Sally gets the idea to grow cotton on the few acres her husband left her and gets a pair of strange allies in John Malkovich and Danny Glover to help her.
Glover is an itinerant hobo who is the one who if he knows anything knows cotton from his sharecropping background. He's who really holds the family together in the crisis. John Malkovich is a blind man whose brother-in-law is unctuous town banker, Lane Smith, who essentially dumps him on Field because he doesn't want to care for him. Malkovich who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor proves to be a faithful friend.
Lindsay Crouse was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as Field's sister. There's a subplot in the film involving her and her philandering husband Ed Harris.
Robert Benton won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for Best Director and Sally Field won her second Oscar for Places in the Heart. Her character isn't as feisty as her first Oscar winner, Norma Rae, but Edna Spalding certainly has the same grit.
Period country and gospel music make up the soundtrack for Places in the Heart. Old line Protestant hymns Blessed Assurance begins the film and In The Garden is the theme for the surreal ending.
I can't describe the ending except that it is one of the most beautiful in the history of cinema. It's a vision of what promise we have either in heaven or a utopia we make on earth where the things that divide humankind are washed away and we are in fellowship with each other and our Maker.
You have to have a heart of diamond if you are not moved by Places in the Heart.