All That Heaven Allows, while not an amazing film, gives a clear understanding of life in the upper class, how limiting it can be on one's choices and the tremendous pressure to uphold "rules" and avoid the local gossip.
Cary is an an affluent, at least upper middle class widow. Though she has stayed in her home for awhile since she is a widow, she begins to go back into her societal norm and do what’s expected of a woman like her: going to parties and country clubs. Though it would seem she could do whatever pleases her as a member of this upper class with so much money, she soon learns the constraints of such a class structure. She can’t be with the man she loves because she is expected to make choices that match with a woman of her standing.
She soon learns the man she loves, Ron, is the only man that is truly free, defying society, all their expectations and gossip, and lives life as he chooses to. The only person he answers to is himself, and he can therefore freely choose to marry any woman, even a woman such as Cary. She, however, comes across tremendous pressure for choosing a man "beneath her." She is limited because of what the people around her think, but she must choose to live for herself if she is ever to be happy.
Cary’s family and friends think she needs a television so she won’t be so lonely, thinking it will give her something to do with her time. However, it seems like it would only breed pity, not applause and admiration in the people around her. They would see her resigned to merely living through the television and never moving on with her life, trapped and lonely, and that would only cause people to feel sorry for her. They may approve of her choice to do so, but that does not mean they respect or desire her position.
The film provides a look into various classes within America during the 1950s, showing not only the pressure placed upon people by society, but also TV’s place in the different classes; either as an escape and companion, or entertainment that never ends. A woman is trapped in the home and seeking a way out, perhaps through television, but realizing that it will never provide a true escape. Cary must learn to find love despite any claims society has over her, to break free of convention and live her own life.
While the story is simplistic with its message, it does show the harm that can come from seeking to please society, and all that can be lost for fear of a gossip. But is freedom truly in only listening to ourselves? Or is there something higher than both us and society we should be seeking? While it is surprising that it made the Criterion Collection, it causes its audience to ponder how often they too cater to the demands placed upon them by "squabbling country club members."