16 May 2016

LESBIAN ROMANCE RULES - Desert Hearts (1985)

Films have formulas and cliches, but how well do films follow those formulas?  What about Lesbian Romance films, do they follows a strict formula and a set of rules?

Setting in Reno in 1959, Desert Hearts (1985) is a film about a uptight respectable academic in Nevada for a quickie divorce who meets and falls in love with a wild young artist.

The following analysis may contain spoilers for


A Coming Out Story

"I wouldn't know what to do." ~ Vivian Bell.
"You can start by putting the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door." ~ Cay Rivver.

Vivian Bell is the main POV character, although Cay Rivvers does get a little POV time.  Vivian is uptight, respected, married academic who has never had sex with a woman.

There May Be T&A

"I'm not taking off my robe." ~ Vivian Bell.
"Well, everyone draws the line somewhere." ~ Cay Rivvers.

Towards the end there is a major sex scene between the two main characters an a little nudity after that (mainly breasts).



"I yearn for something we couldn't analysis or reason away.  I want to be free of who I've been." ~ Vivian Bell.

Vivian is certainly unsatisfied by her life, she repeatedly states that she is after something more than the life she's been leading, something with more freedom and a little more spontaneous and wild.


Enter the Lesbian

"Listen, you're just visiting the way I live." ~ Cay Rivvers.

Cay Rivvers is the lesbian.  She has shorter and less styled hair than the rest of the characters (although still feminine).  She dresses in a more masculine way than most of the female characters, but in keeping with riding gear for living on a ranch (she does wear a dress when attending a wedding at the end of the film).  She is out, and very open about her sexuality (although he is shown to have had a relationship with at least one man.)  She is also portrayed as wild, carefree and an artist.


Just Good Friends

"This here's our friend Vivian." ~ Silver.
"Whose friend?" ~ Darrell.
"My friend." ~ Cay Rivver.

Vivian tells Lucille she has become friends with Cay.


Rejection By Friends and Family

"Not that it's any of my concern, but you should think twice before you hang around with her." ~ Lucille. 
"You're right, Lucille, it s not your concern." ~ Vivian Bell.
"Did you know she was kicked out of college for 'unnatural acts,' as they say?" ~ Lucille 

Cay is accepted by most of the people in her life, including her brother, her best friend Silver (who have a very passionate friendship) and even her ex is accepting, saying he is willing to turn a blind eye to her needs.  Her "stepmother" Francine is a little less accepting.  She loves Cay, but doesn't like her sexuality.  Later, however, her dislike for the relationship appears to be more that she fears Vivian will take Cay away from her more than intolerance.  She does claim that she's kicking Vivian off the farm because of what other people will think of the relationship, but that could just be misdirection.

Vivian is away from her own friends and family, so this issue doesn't come up directly.  There's some references to the beliefs that her colleagues won't accept her being a lesbian.  At the end when Vivian offers to take Cay with her, she says "you deserve to live with - or near - someone who sees how wonderful you are," suggesting that she wasn't comfortable with being out publicly.


Will They, Won't They/On Again, Off Again

"We don't have to stop" ~ Cay Rivvers.
"I do." ~ Vivian Bell.

They spend some happy times together as friends.  When they kiss, Vivian rejects the relationship.  Eventually they hook up, but even then they fall out over whether to stay together, or about being out or even over knowledge that Vivian will be leaving.



"I don't act that way to change the world.  I act that way so the goddamned world won't change me." ~ Cay Rivvers.

Frances and Cay eventually make up, to a degree.  As noted, Vivian's rejection by her peers hadn't happened yet.


Happily Ever After?

"We've been saying goodbye from the beginning." ~ Cay Rivver.

The film as an ambiguous ending.  Vivian is getting on the train to go back home.  She's offered to take Cay with her, but all they've decided on is that Cay will travel with her to the next story so they can be together another 40 minutes.  It's a bittersweet ending, do they end up together, have a long distance relationship or are they about to have their last 40 minutes together?

RULE #10
No Sequels

"What is it you want?" ~ Cay Rivvers.
"Another 40 minutes with you" ~ Vivian Bell.

No sequel, but director Donna Deitch is working on one.


"If any rules get broken I'll take the blame, OK?" ~ Cay Rivvers.
"OK.  And I'll tell you what: I would prefer that none did." ~ Vivian Bell.
  • Rules that are followed in this film:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9.
  • Rules that are partially followed, or not clear, in this film:  6, 8, 10.
~ DUG.

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