Movie Recommendation: Desert Hearts

Desert Hearts takes place in 1950’s Reno and follows the story of two women who fall in love in the Nevada desert. Starring Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau. This compelling film was made in 1985 on a shoestring budget, adapted from a book written by a woman. (Jane Rule) Directed by a woman. (Donna Deitch) With a screenplay adapted by a woman. (Natalie Cooper) It may be the first time I have ever seen so many women listed on rolling credits of a movie. Yahoo! 🙂

Movie Recommendation-Desert Hearts

Whether you are gay or straight, this forbidden love story will make you feel like someone reached in and put a string of lights around your heart. (a movie quote)

Desert Hearts has many sentimental elements including tender ballads from Patsy Cline and a steamy kiss in the rain, but it's not your “quintessential chick flick.”

It’s raw, real and authentic in it’s approach to a burgeoning relationship between Vivian Bell, an uptight NYC professor going through a divorce and Cay Rivvers, a free spirited lesbian who works as a change girl at a Casino and refuses to let anyone turn her into something she isn’t. 

Cay Rivvers quote from Desert Hearts

Vivian arrives in Reno where she meets Frances Parker, a rough-and-tumble friend from her past (played by Three’s Company Audra Lindley). Parker runs a dude ranch where Vivian will reside while she waits for finalization of an amicable divorce from her husband of twelve years. When the lawyer asks Vivian why she wants a divorce, she replies, "I want a more honest life." But living a more honest life will cost Vivian her former self.

Movie Recommendation: Desert Hearts

The Nevada desert is a grand backdrop for Vivian's inner landscape. She's all dried up and desperately need of water. Then something unexpected happens, Vivian befriends Cay Rivvers. A last name that reflects Cay’s vivacious energy.  Soon Vivian is captivated by Cay and her repressed longings bubble to the surface. 

Cay’s persistence and openness encourages Vivian to stretch beyond her comfort zone. Vivian slowly unravels as their undeniable attraction grows in strength. They fall in love and make love, which is neither exploitative or unnecessarily graphic. It is a refreshing representation of true intimacy seen through the female gaze.

The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler

The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler

There are many bumps along the road as they navigate what it means to be two women in love in the 1950s but I am happy to report a non-fatalistic ending is on the horizon.

This movie is worth watching for many reasons from the beautiful landscapes, time period costumes to exploring the smoke filled casinos of Reno to the indomitable cast of female characters. Above all Desert Hearts is a truly beautiful story about the love of two humans who gave themselves permission to be seen by each other in a World that said their love was impermissible.

Check it on Amazon Prime or buy the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray, where you can watch supplemental materials including an interview with Director Donna Deitch and Glee actress Jane Lynch on how this movie positively impacted LGBTQ representation through the art of storytelling. 

Also, Untamed is a great companion book to go along with this movie! If you haven't read it, you should really check it out. It's a true life story about how author Glennon Doyle followed her inner knowing, fell in love with a woman and found a more authentic version of herself.

Stories with Whitney

Leave a Comment