By Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death™
Places in the Heart (1984-PG) stars Sally Field in her Oscar Award-winning performance as a widow in a Depression-era small town who has to learn how to make a living after her husband, the local sheriff, is shot dead. As a funeral film, it illustrates how families used to wash and dress the bodies of their dead at home. It also vividly shows why life insurance exists to help families after the breadwinner dies.
Set in Waxahachie, Texas in 1935, Edna Spalding had been married to her husband Royce for 15 years. She kept the house and raised their two children. She didn’t have a job, didn’t know how to write a check, and didn’t know how she was going to keep her house and land after her husband died.
At the insistence of the banker who held the mortgage, she took in a boarder (John Malkovich), a blind veteran from WWI and the banker’s brother-in-law. She also enlisted the services of a black man who knew everything one needed to know about growing and picking cotton (Danny Glover). Together, they rise to the challenge of growing and bringing in a crop of cotton by a certain date to win a large sum of money that will cover the mortgage on the farm.
Two particular scenes make Places in the Heart a great Funeral Film pick:
A Home Funeral
After Royce is shot dead, the sheriff’s posse brings his body home and lays him out on the dining room table. Edna’s sister Margaret comes over to help wash and dress his body. During this quiet scene, Edna realizes Royce has a scar on his torso that she had never noticed in 15 years of marriage.
This scene shows a glimpse at the process of home death care leading to a home wake. The body is washed and dressed in burial clothes by the family. Home Funeral Guide Peg Lorenz, who runs Peaceful Passage at Home, says home-directed funerals/wakes are the wave of the future:
- “We did it for thousands of years. If the cavemen and women could do it so can we.”
- “It is an option. Most people, for now, will continue to choose funeral homes. By the way, just as home births did not put any ob/gyn’s out of business so home wakes will not, in any way, impact the funeral industry.”
- “You can have a home wake for a day or two with some practical body care and then call a funeral home for the paperwork and transportation.”
- “A home wake gives you precious time to make decisions, gather the family, heal some wounds with storytelling and just being together in the privacy of your own home.”
- “A home wake is a lot less expensive and completely legal in every state. The restrictions in nine states come with taking the body out of the house and the paperwork. In every state but those nine a family can do it all.”
Why There’s Life Insurance
The other scene that speaks volumes about the aftermath of a death in the family is when the banker who holds the mortgage on the house and land comes to call. He tells Edna that $3,681 is owed on the property, with twice-a-year payments. He asks her how she plans to pay the $240 that will be due on October 15. This is a large sum of money in 1935.
She thinks she might start a little store and sell trinkets, but she lives out in the middle of nowhere. The banker suggests that she sell the place and split up her children among other family members, at least temporarily during these hard times. This is a prospect Edna will not consider and she sends the banker on his way.
Life insurance was created to avoid this kind of financial hardship. Many people are able to get life insurance through their employment, but in this day and age with high unemployment, many cannot. Many folks don’t know about final expense insurance policies that can provide up to $35,000 to cover at least funeral costs. These whole life policies can be purchased by people up to age 89 and in many different health conditions. If you’d like to find out more, give Gail Rubin a call at 505-265-7215.
There is also a lovely overlap of two funerals for Edna’s husband Royce and the black youth who accidentally shot him. The differences are dramatic in the segregated time and place of Waxahachie, Texas in 1935.
Places in the Heart is available on DVD from Amazon.com. Here’s a trailer from the film.
Here’s a short American Film Institute interview with Sally Field about her take on Places in the Heart.
Sally Field’s heartfelt Oscar acceptance speech for this film has often been misquoted over the years. Here it is verbatim: “This means so much more to me this time, I don’t know why. I think the first time I hardly felt it because it was all too new. But I want to ‘thank you’ to you. I haven’t had an orthodox career. And I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it. But this time I feel it. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me… right now… you like me. Thank you.”
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, is author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and host of A Good Goodbye TV. She speaks to groups using clips from funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues and help start serious conversations. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.