Farming: Hollywood Style–Trilogy of Female-Driven Stories (Sally Field, Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek)

Three Hollywood movies in 1984 described farming from the a woman’s point of view: Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart,” starring Sally Field, Country,” featuring Jessica Lange, and The River,” with Sissy Spacek.

The appearance of three movies about farm life in one year, as if suddenly the farmers’ plight was the most important issue on the national agenda, was probably a coincidence. What was not a coincidence, though, was the fact that all three featured strong heroines. In the l980s, every major actress in Hollywoods ought substantial, preferably moralistic, screenplays. After two decades of statistical under-representation and qualitative misrepresentation in the form of stereotypical casting, mainstream American cinema finally offered more and better roles for women than for men.

Though different in approach and style, the three movies share similar narrative structure. Their thematic conventions could be summarized in the following schematic way:

1. A crisis disrupts the stability of family life, forcing the woman to take charge.

2. The woman proves to be stronger and more committed to the cause than the man.

3. The husband is not around when most needed.

4. The woman is first and foremost a mother, then a wife.

5. The children are put to a test; there is an intergenerational conflict.

6. The main struggle is against forces of Nature (storms, floods, barren land)

7. The struggle is also against human elements (the villain is often governmental bureaucracy).

8. The banks threaten to foreclose the farm; bankers as representatives of
Big Business are negatively portrayed.

9. The politicians either don’t care and/or are ineffective and ineffectual.

10. The values of country life are depicted as superior to those of the Big City.

11. The narrative contains a clear closure, a resolution in which the immediate problem is resolved by a strong individual, thus neglecting the structural and systemic sources of the problem.

12. The woman gains stronger self-awareness and political consciousness.

13. The husband comes back and the unity of the nuclear family is restored.