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Film / Places in the Heart

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Places in the Heart is a 1984 film written and directed by Robert Benton.

It's 1935, and Waxahatchie, Texas is deep in the grip of The Great Depression. One Sunday town sheriff Royce Spalding (Ray Baker) goes out to deal with an intoxicated black teenager who is taking random potshots with a revolver down by the railroad tracks. The youth, Wylie (De'voreaux White), accidentally shoots Royce in the chest, killing him, after which Wylie is promptly lynched by the white men of the town.

Royce's wife Edna (Sally Field) is left a widow with two young children. Edna has spent her entire life homemaking and has no earthly idea about how to handle money – she doesn't even know how much her husband made. She is unpleasantly surprised to learn that their farm is heavily mortgaged, and if she can't come up with the payment for the bank by October, she and her children will be homeless.

Enter Moses "Moze" Hadner (Danny Glover), a hungry, homeless laborer. Moses offers to do chores around the Spalding farm for nothing more than room and board. When he finds out about Edna's dilemma he suggests she plant cotton, a lucrative cash crop, in order to raise the money to keep the farm. Edna supplements her income by taking in a blind man, Mr. Will (John Malkovich), as a boarder. However, the falling price of cotton puts her home and the survival of her family in greater danger.

A parallel plot follows Edna's sister Margaret (Lindsay Crouse), whose husband Wayne Lomax (Ed Harris) is having an affair with the town schoolteacher Viola Kelsey (Amy Madigan), who is herself married to Buddy (Terry O'Quinn).

Sally Field's acceptance of her second Best Actress Oscar for her role in this film led to one of the most Narm-tastic moments in Academy Award history. An emotional Field said to the audience, "I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!" – often misquoted as "You like me, you really like me!"


  • Awkwardly-Placed Bathtub: Well, it's a home in rural Texas in 1935, so it doesn't have a lot of amenities, which is why Edna has to take a bath in an aluminum bathtub in the middle of the kitchen. Leads to a comic moment when Mr. Will, who after all is blind, comes barging into the kitchen to complain about the kids scratching his records. He doesn't realize that he has intruded on Edna's private moment until, while waving his arms in anger, he accidentally dunks his hand into her bathtub.
  • Book Ends: The same church hymn being sung ("This Is My Story") in the first scene and the last.
  • But Now I Must Go: Not by choice, though. After the KKK goons beat up Moses (and would have killed him if Mr. Will hadn't intervened), he realizes he has to leave, and bids a sad farewell to Edna.
  • The Determinator: Probably the logical thing to do would be for Edna to sell off her debt-ridden farm and throw herself on the mercy of her relatives. But by God, Edna is not going to lose her home or her children.
    Edna: I don't care what it takes. I don't care if it kills me. I don't care if it kills you. I'm not going to give up. And if the two of you do, you can go straight to hell.
  • Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: Averted. No funnel cloud is ever seen, and the damage to the town from the tornado is catastrophic.
  • Down on the Farm: Edna has to do some fast thinking to save their farm, which is no easy task in 1935 when farms are being foreclosed everywhere due to the Depression.
  • "Everyone Comes Back" Fantasy Party Ending: The final scene seems at first to be a simple church service. It is revealed to be something more symbolic when first Moses is shown (he was chased out of town by the KKK in the previous scene), and then everyone who has died in the movie—Royce, Wylie, and the old lady who was killed by the tornado—also are are shown in the congregation along with Edna and the rest.
  • Gainax Ending: The final scene takes place in a church service. At first it seems like a normal service, grounded in realism like the rest of the film, with Edna and her family and only a couple of others in the congregation. But as communion is passed around, nearly every character previously seen in the film—friend and foe, good and bad, living and dead, in fact everyone except for Buddy and Viola—is seen taking part in the communion. The final shot is completely startling and unexpected, but it forces the viewer to rethink everything we've seen before, and the way it suggests grace and reconciliation qualifies as a genuine tear jerker.
  • Housewife: Edna at the beginning is the Platonic ideal of a 1930s housewife—concerned with homemaking and child rearing, and otherwise so unskilled that she has no idea how much money the family has and doesn't even know how to write a check. She has a steep learning curve after Royce is killed.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Royce's random, senseless death starts the story, as Edna has to battle to keep her home and farm.
  • "Shut Up!" Gunshot: Mr. Will does this to get the attention of the Klansmen who are beating on Moses.