Act 1: Golden RaintreeThe film opens up with a sprawling view of the town and subsequently zooms to a suburban home. The scene then opens up as a woman Sara Warren crosses the lawn to speak with Cary Scott, the films protagonist. The two chat and Cary expresses how much free time she has these days, after her husband has passed. Sara and Cary were supposed to have lunch, but Sara hasnt the time and came to return dishes and Sara comments on the fact that Cary is lucky she isnt a country club woman (whom would be entirely busy). Sara invites Cary to a country club dinner and suggests shell invite Harvey, another widow like Cary herself who would accompany her. The young gardener, Ron Kirby, introduces himself to help Cary with her boxes back to the house. Subsequently, Cary invites Ron to sit and share the lunch she had prepared for herself and Sara.
They strike up a conversation about gardening and his fathers passing and his eventual hope to go to agricultural school. Cary asks about the trees that she has, in which Ron responds that she has a golden raintree where it only thrives near a home of love. Ron leaves in order to get back to work as Cary holds on to the piece of the tree he was describing. Act 2: Egyptian Tomb The next scene opens up with Cary at her dresser getting ready for the country club dinner that night. Her son Ned and daughter Kay have returned home for the weekend from their schools.
She explains shes been invited out to dinner and being picked up by Harvey. The children give each other a look of deviousness as Ned goes to the living room to prepare drinks for Harveys arrival. Kay then proceeds to talk about Harvey and how is an okay match for her widowed mother. Kay then talks about the Egyptian Tomb where wives were walled up with their husbands, and how the community made sure that this happened. They venture downstairs as Ned is preparing drinks and remarks at his mothers stunning red dress. Harvey arrives and they sit in the living room and chat and he remarks on her stunning appearance and remembering her late husband, as they were once friends. The two finally leave for the country club dinner. Act 3: Stoningham Country ClubHarvey and Cary enter the dinner only to be accosted by many club members who pay compliments to the widow.
We are then introduced Mona who goes on and on about Carys youth and red dress. Another married member, Howard, asks to dance with her and they talk about their families. He expresses his love for Cary as they dance out to the patio where he tries to kiss her and she resists him knowing full well he is a married man. Cary storms off from the patio disgusted with Howards comments. Act 4: Championship vs. Romance The scene cuts back to Carys home where Kay and one of Neds high school Friends Freddie is trying to be affectionate with her although his advances are cut short due to Kays Freudian theories of attraction.
Subsequently her mother returns home with Harvey and he proceeds to walk her to the door. He blatantly asks Cary if he'll consider marrying him since they are both alone anyways and assumes she would only want companionship, not love at this point in her life. Cary is left at the doorstep pondering his question but also quite disappointed. Meanwhile, Kay is still trying to explain her theories of love and attraction and they begin to kiss. Cary retreats to her bedroom where she looks down at the pieces of golden raintree Ron had given to her earlier in the day.
Act 5: Glass House/The Old MillSaras blue car drives up to Carys house where Ron is seen still working on Carys property. Cary speaks with Ron since he had been gone the last several weeks and invites Ron in for some coffee, however, Ron has to finish up his work since this will be the last year he will be doing this job. Hell be growing trees as a full time job. While wishing him goodbye, Ron invites Cary over to his place to show her the different trees he has. Cary at first declines, but changes her mind and decides to go along with him. They drive out to a colorful countryside where an old mill sits next to his garden house. Cary is surprised to learn that he lives in such an earthy place but also admires him for it.
They venture over to the broken-down mill which fascinates Cary and she picks up a broken Wedgwood teapot and wants to put the pieces back together for it. Cary continues looking around the mill and goes up the stairs only to be frightened by a bird and she falls into the arms of Ron as they share a romantic gaze. She suggests to Ron that he work on the mill and make a home out of it. Ron gets closer to Cary and they embrace in a romantic first kiss.
Flustered and confused about her emotions, Cary and Ron exit the mill and he returns her back to her home. When Ron drops Cary off, he insists that they will see each other again once he returns from his trip, still flustered from their kiss, she adheres to his insistence. Act 6: Two InvitationsSara is seen walking towards Carys home and she enters the house in order to invite her to dinner at her house where the gossip queen Mona will also be attending. Sara insists that she get a television as a companion since she is now a widow. The doorbell rings and Ron is at the door. He invites Cary with him to his friends place where they would most likely stay for dinner as well.
Cary introduces Sara to Ron and only barely obliges him continuing with her invitation about dinner that night. Cary declines the invitation to dinner at Saras and decides to go with Ron instead. She gets her coat and they leave for Rons friends place. Act 7: Walden ClambakeThe two drive up to Rons friends home where Cary is introduced to Mick and Alida Anderson. Mick used to be advertising executive and when he met Ron he had shown him the way of nature, as it were. They sit down with some drinks and toast. The two men exit to the wine cellar to prepare for their evening dinner party while Cary and Alida are left alone and she inquires more about Ron and what he is about. Cary picks up a book on the table by Thoreau and Alida explains that her husband lives by this book as Ron lives it and also how Ron showed Mick that there was more to life than money and career to make him secure.
Alidas young cousin Mary-Ann rushes into the scene and runs down the stairs as she is off to spend the night at a friends, thinking the party will be boring. She meets Ron at the bottom of the stairs as she flirts with him, making Cary a little jealous. After this they return inside and begin setting up for the festivities and Cary is introduced to a variety of culturally and ethnically different people who arrive with their contributions to the dinner. The party flashes forward to the crowd dancing to music in which Ron is singing and playing the piano to Cary. The two then dance the night away just in time for dinner.
Act 8: Wedgwood TeapotThe scenery transitions into wintertime as Cary is getting ready to leave as a television salesman asks her about being interested in one (since Sara had mentioned it to him). Yet she declines saying that she isnt interested in it. Carys car arrives at Rons mill where he shows her the work he has done so far on the place. As Ron takes off Carys boots, she discovers he has put the Wedgwood teapot back together for her. He informs her that the reason he started working on the place was for the both of them as Carys face is stunned at the idea he then asks her to marry him. She is reluctant at first because she hasnt thought about marriage and how it would be impossible and she implies that there are other things that are in the way such as her children and her insecurity about how Ron lives his life and if she can fit into that same mold, unsure of whether it would work out or not. However, Ron is sure of his love for Cary.
She is afraid of a different life that doesnt follow the mold of the country club scenario she is used to. Upset at Ron for not understanding, she begins to leave and knocks over the Wedgwood teapot breaking it to pieces once again. Ron says it doesnt matter and he throws the remains into the fire. She walks out the door but has forgotten her boots and she breaks down and confesses her true love for him and they embrace. They rest by the fire as Cary contemplates how hard it will be for the community and especially her children, to accept them as Cary and Ron gaze out the window of the mill together. Act 9: Butcher ShopThe scene opens as Mona is walking down the street to the Stoningham Butcher Shop where she sees Cary through the window getting meat. Mona enters as the butcher relays information that he missed her on the weekend and Mona inquires as to where she has been. Cary insists that she went away for the weekend since the children would be out of town, yet Mona senses something that she isnt telling her.
However, Mona sees Cary enter Rons car and she worries that Mona will spread the word fast. Cary is concerned as to why it is so difficult for two people who are in love to express themselves and Ron replies that it isnt unless you make it to be. Ron suggests that they tell the children as soon as possible instead of waiting. The scene cuts to Cary back in her home as Mona has already spread the news and Sara is there because she doesnt believe a word she said, but Cary insists that their relationship is real. While Sara tries to be supportive, she expresses to Cary all of the different reasons that people will criticize their relationship infusing into Cary all of these preposterous scenarios making her even more worried; especially about her children. However, Cary takes a stand and doesnt want to let anyones spiteful hatred ruin her relationship. Sara, in order to incorporate Ron (for acceptance), invites them to a cocktail party at the club.
Act 10: Fathers TrophyThe following scene cuts to the train station where Ned has returned home for the weekend. He enters the home as Cary has been putting things away in the basement, rearranging. Ned wonders about his mothers mysterious news that she has for both he and Kay. They convene in Carys bedroom and she tells them she is going to get married and they are thrilled, however, they think it is Harvey and are shocked to learn that she meant the gardener, Ron Kirby.
Ned blows up at his mother after she insists its not a joke and Kay begins to rationally analyze the situation as Cary becomes more and more worried about their reactions to the news. Cary informs them that they are going to the cocktail party and that Ron will be stopping by so they could meet. The children begin to make conclusions about Ron and who he is and how their relationship will never work out. The doorbell rings and they all go downstairs and asks them to give him a fair chance. They all transfer into the living room as Ned prepares his signature Martinis reluctantly. Ned notices that his fathers trophy is missing from the fireplace mantle and he gets worked up over the absence of it.
He wonders what else his mother will replace in the home. Ron tries to explain that they wouldnt live in their home and Ned is angered at the fact that the home has been in the family for many years. Next, Kay paints her mother into a conventional role, as her desires of that of group approval would be more important. The children leave Cary and Ron in the living room feeling empty and unwanted. However, Ron explains to Cary that they arent used to a man like him and that they will eventually come around giving her a sense of hope and security. The two then make their way the cocktail party.
Act 11: Saras Lovely HouseThe cocktail guests are all gathered around the windows, impatiently awaiting the arrival of Cary and her new beau as they gossip about what he must be like. The two enter the party, as everyone seems to be staring at them. People make very snide comments about Carys age, her marriage, and Rons career. Ron is invited off for a drink with Saras husband and she runs into Howard, who had previously tried to kiss Cary. Howard follows Cary into another room and once again inappropriately constrains her and kisses her and Ron intervenes threatening Howard as all of the party guests flock to the scene.
Ron and Cary decide to leave the party immediately as the guests whisper and dramatize the event making Ron out to be the bad guy for accosting Howard. Act 12: A Good-looking Set of MusclesThe scene unfolds as Cary and Ron make their way back to the house where Ned can be seen through the window anxiously pacing in the living room. Ron ensures Cary that nothing is more important than their relationship as she reluctantly agrees and leaves to the door by herself. Ned corners his mother and tells her that meeting Ron has not changed his feelings and says that someone has to think straight in this family. He reminds Cary about giving up the home and about the tradition and how it is going to affect what people think of Cary and their family. Cary informs him that she is going to go through with the marriage and Ned tells her that he wont come visit anymore because of his disapproval and disgrace for his mothers decision. Ned hastily leaves the home in anger, leaving Cary disheveled. Act 13: Rose WindowThe next morning Cary is at her phone speaking with Sara about the previous nights events as Kay comes running up the stairs crying into her room.
Cary enters Kays room to console her daughter wondering what the matter is. Kay had been at the library with Freddie and someone made a remark about her mother saying that she had been seeing Ron even before their father had passed away. Kay left the library in tears and on the way home she and Freddie had a fight as she said she didnt care what people thought about her mother, but that in actuality, she does. Cary says she cant bear to see the two of them so distraught and Kay promptly asks if she would ruin all of their lives just for the love of Ron.
Cary tries to relate with her daughter about her understanding different people like Ron, but Kay admits that she doesnt really understand and the situation her mother is in makes her upset. Cary looks away once again conflicted and seeing that something must be done for the sake of her children. Act 14: A Local SensationCary drives over to the mill to see Ron as he is working on their new home. She informs Ron that her children have not accepted their relationship and asks him to wait awhile to get married. Cary insists that they wait so that Kay and Ned can get used to the idea and that the town chatter will eventually die down.
Ron is heartbroken and doesnt understand and conjures up a scenario where he finally gets accepted into the country club and theyll be invited to all the dinners, assimilating into the society which Ron lives against. Cary wants to make things easier, but Ron sees that he could easily change and does not want to live that lifestyle. He questions Carys responsibility for her children into an assessment of Carys own insecurities about fitting in. Cary retaliates with Rons ability to only follow his own rules and not accept anyone elses and making her choose between her or the children. Yet Ron tells her that she is the one making it a difficult decision.
Cary chooses to end their relationship as Ron stares stupefied at her decision and she hastily exits the mill leaving Ron heartbroken. Act 15: Telephone and TelegramThe next scene opens up to Sara sitting in Carys home as she shuts the door of the house-cleaning lady who is vacuuming. Sara insists that Cary has done the right thing by ending their relationship for the sake of her children. Sara tells her that shell be able to return to the fold of the country club likeness despite the event. Sara consoles Cary by telling her that everything will go back to normal and that she still has the children.
Ned telephones and Cary informs her son that she has decided not to get married. He is distracted and is content but doesnt make a fuss about it, only happy that she made the right decision leaving her emotionally confused. Cary ventures to the train station to pick up her children for their weekend home. While she is there, Cary runs into the town doctor and informs him that shes been meaning to stop by for frequent headaches shes been having of late. However, neither Ned nor Kay get off the train and she is informed by telegram that they were too busy to make it home leaving their mother alone and abandoned. Act 16: Silver-tipped SpruceCary walks back through the town center where Christmas trees are being sold in the lot.
She browses through the trees and runs into Ron there helping Mick deliver trees. They have a heartfelt moment together as Cary inquires about Mick and Alida and her remembrance of the silver-tipped spruces. However, Mary-Ann, Alida's cousin, interjects as she has come to fetch him. Cary looks disappointed and decides to take the regular, ugly-looking tree rather than the nice one and she leaves as Ron looks on. Act 17: TelevisionThe next scene is within Carys living room where she is decorating the tree she had purchased.
Cary stares out the window, now alone, listening to the carolers and contemplating. Ned and Kay arrive home for Christmas and Cary is overjoyed to see them. Ned wonders where his mothers present is and needs to make a phone call about it. Kay takes off her glove and informs Cary that Freddie has proposed to her, Cary is skeptical because she is so young, but Kay reminds her mother that she too was young when she got married.
Cary is saddened since she feels it is too soon. Kay consoles her mother by saying she was being childish when she overacted about her and Rons relationship. Ned enters the room once again and informs Cary that they should sell the house since they will both be away for the year and too busy to come home. Cary is dumbfounded and at his idea since he had been so adamant about keeping the house. The doorbell rings and Kay once again consoles her mother who comes to the realization that cutting off her relationship with Ron was pointless and Kay apologizes for hurting her mother and informs her that it isnt too late if Ron loves her. Ned enters the room again with a new television set that they had gotten for her for Christmas. Act 18: Pheasant HuntRon is shown walking through the woods near his mill with Mick hunting pheasants. Mick tells Ron that he hasnt been the same since he broke up with Cary and Ron asks him what he should do about it.
Mick tells Ron that he should just call her and make up with her or do anything to get back with her and says that women want men to make up their minds for them. Ron decides to continue hunting as Mick heads back home. The scene then cuts to Cary having visited the doctor she spoke to earlier and he informs her that nothing is physically wrong with Cary. He tells her that shes punishing herself because of Ron. He tells Cary that she should just marry Ron and that shell continue having headaches until she does so. He helps Cary realize that she is giving up something as precious as love and mustnt let anyone tell her otherwise. She thinks it is too late and leaves the doctors office. Act 19: Accidental EncountersOn her way out, she sees Alida driving and stops to chat with Cary and inform her that her cousin Mary-Ann is getting married to a boy from New Jersey she had been seeing.
Carys mood changes, as she is happy to hear that Ron is still available. Cary bids Alida farewell and is elated and decides to head to Rons place in order to confess her true love. Although when she arrives, she hesitates, Ron sees her and calls out to her but she doesnt hear. Ron runs towards the mill, but looses his balance on the mountain and falls down unconscious as Cary drives away.
Act 20: Bedside vigilNow back at home, Cary hears the doorbell ring and Alida answers informing Cary that something terrible has happened to Ron. They hastily leave back to the mill where Ron is being looked at by the doctor and a nurse. The nurse informs them that they are unsure of how he is and tells her that Ron should not be disturbed, as he lies asleep on the couch. Cary notices that the mill house that Ron has been working on is completed and Alida tells Cary that he never gave up hope for their relationship. Cary finally understands now what it means to not place importance on unimportant things and feels ashamed for not realizing it earlier.
But Alida tells Cary that it takes time like it did for her and Mick to understand the meaning of life. Cary pulls up a chair next to Rons side and stays with him, eventually falling asleep beside him. Act 21: DeerThe next morning the doctor has returned and tells Cary that hes had a concussion and should not be moved. He tells her it will take time for him to recover and Cary insists that she wont run away to help him make a full recovery. A deer enters the backdrop of the window as Cary stands beside it. Ron begins to stir and Cary rushes to him.
Ron is happy to see Cary and tells him that she has come home. The last shot is of the lone deer wandering outside their window..