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Issues in the Film Desert Hearts

The purpose of this research is to examine the motion picture Desert Hearts with a view toward showing how the filmmaker addresses issues of class, gender, race, and sexuality, in particular in regard to how the film appears to deconstruct heterosexual ideas of lesbians and such dominant-culture tropes as male-dominant/female-submissive structure and world view. The plan of the research will be to set forth the pattern of ideas emerging in Desert Hearts as an exercise in deconstruction of the aesthetic and social context in which it appeared, and then to discuss the cinematic and narrative strategy by which these ideas emerge, including issue fronts that illustrate the encounter between historically dominant and historically marginalized cultures in the modern period.

The pattern of ideas that emerges in Desert Hearts arises from the contingencies implicit in the encounter at a Reno ranch in the late 1950s between Vivian, a staid middle class woman of a certain age undergoing a divorce and Coy, a free-spirited younger woman. Desert Hearts's principal line of action follows Vivian's self-discovery and indeed discovery of new realities of the world over the course of the six weeks she waits for her divorce to become final. Though initially threatened and confused by Coy's sexual aggressiveness and diffident in the face of Coy's lack of inhibition, Vivian is increasingly drawn to her as a personality and sex partner, and ultimately to the point of what the popular culture terms "coming out," decades before the term gained wide currency.

In Desert Hearts, the mise-en-scFne--setting, images, character definition--is a multilayered cue of social commentary targeting conventional attitudes in the culture toward class and gender; by the way, the culture is that of the 1980s, not the 1950s. The vast desert expanse is suited to containing what could be called the sea change of experience undergone by Vivian, similarly the fact tha...

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Issues in the Film Desert Hearts. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:13, April 21, 2019, from