It's an ordinary enough scene: Cary's children buy her a television for Christmas. But for Cary, a widow whose children have grown up and are about to desert her, television represents "the last refuge of lonely women." Although it isn't the film's most prominent symbol, it's still a powerful punch to gut, and one that I believe hasn't softened over time. Cary is at the end of her rope after cutting off her relationship with Ron to gain acceptance from her snobby socialite friends. So when the salesman wheels in the TV, it's all I can do to remain seated and not smash my own TV to pieces, to make up for the fact that I can't enter the film and smash Cary's for her.
All you have to do is turn that dial, and you have all the company you want, right there on the screen. Drama, comedy, life's parade at your fingertips.
The X-Files, Twin Peaks, The Office, Battlestar Galactica, Daria, Foyle's War, Downton Abbey, North and South, Longmire, Hell on Wheels, Mad Men, Portlandia, Arrested Development, Dark Shadows, Peep Show, American Horror Story, Star Trek, Misfits, Primeval, Flipping Out, Doctor Who, Sherlock, House of Cards, Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, Community, Lost, Spaced, Veronica Mars, Party Animals, Freaks and Geeks, 24, Coronation Street, Extras, Being Human, The Fall, Flight of the Conchords, Parks and Recreation, Supernatural, etc. etc, etc.
Oh. Why would I ever want to smash my TV? What the hell was I thinking?
I would not say that I am "addicted" to television. I would, however, fully agree that I am addicted to stories. This is why I'm also a huge reader and movie watcher. "Story" is my real refuge, and I think it is for just about everyone. I'd like to say that I love stories solely for their ideas, for the way they allow one person to communicate with another in a way that is powerful or beautiful precisely because it is indirect, but this is only a half truth. I also love them because the characters are, frankly, doing something that's more interesting than what I'm doing, and because sometimes, of course, life all on its own is unsatisfying.
Even though that's a pretty grim thought, I'm not going to be ending my relationship with images on a screen anytime soon. If I can get such a high level of self-awareness out of All That Heaven Allows, or out of films like Melancholia and Daisies or television shows like Community and Mad Men, then those viewing experiences are, truly, experiences, and not merely surrogates or replacements for something else--because there is simply nothing else that compares. An addiction to narrative is a vice, but it's one we all share. It gives each of us the opportunity to live, simultaneously, more than just one life.