Hannah Free (2009)
Hannah and Rachel grew up as little girls in the same small Midwest town, where traditional gender expectations eventually challenge their deep love for one another. Hannah becomes an adventurous, unapologetic lesbian and Rachel a strong but quiet homemaker. Weaving back and forth between past and present, the film reveals how the women maintained their love affair despite a marriage, a world war, infidelities, and family denial.
A film about a lifelong love affair between an independent spirit and the woman she calls home.
- Hannah (Sharon Gless) is spending her final years in a nursing home, recalling memories from her past, all built around the relationship with her one true love, Rachel. Unable to walk and confined to her bed, Hannah recalls her childhood with Rachel back on a farm in Michigan. Now Rachel is comatose and being kept down the hall in the same home as Hannah, yet Rachels family will not allow Hannah to see her lover of so many years.
Throughout the story, Hannah speaks to a younger image of Rachel in her room, and reflects on distraught episodes in earlier years when she left Rachel, such as her time stationed with the WAC in New Mexico during WWII, and when she felt she needed time to be alone by living in Alaska. Those times apart still plague their past: as we later learn, domestic Rachel was married to a man and quite repressed about her love for Hannah, and the butch Hannah felt she needed to escape the religious and sexual repression that surrounded Rachel, so she took another lover in the WAC and found solitude by fishing in Alaska.
In the present, Hannah continues to plead with Rachels family represented by her inhibited granddaughter Marge to see the comatose Rachel. Marge coldly tells Hannah that she was always the source of trouble in Rachels life, especially since she travelled away so often, and does not want Hannah to upset her any further.
A high school student named Greta shows up for a typical assignment of interviewing the elderly about their past. Hannah rattles off some basic facts about growing up during the Great Depression and serving as a WAC in WWII, as well as some of her many travels. Hannah rather casually invites Greta in on her conversations with the fantasy Rachel, and Greta relates somewhat to her situation since her mother died, and she still talks to her. Having made a connection, which they both sense is augmented by their lesbian identities, Greta tells Hannah she will help her visit Rachel later that night.
As promised, Greta arrives in the middle of the night, helps Hannah into a wheelchair, and absconds with her to Rachels room, where she lay in a coma connected to life support machines. Hannah tells Greta how they were together all their lives, even when they were apart. Suddenly a nurse enters and insists that Hannah leave because the family has not given permission, but Greta tells the nurse that Rachel is her great-grandmother, and that she thus represents the family to allow Hannah to visit.
Hannah recalls further memories of her happier times with Rachel, including her return from Alaska, during which time Rachel had twins and became a widow. One of her twins was named Marge, whom we slowly realize is the child who became Gretas grandmother, the mother of Gretas deceased mother. When Greta confronts Marge about allowing Hannah to see Rachel, she explains how she relates to Hannah as a lesbian, but Marge persists with her resistance to allowing Hannah and Rachel to spend time together.
Hannah has more talks with Greta about her life, and gives her a suitcase full of her writings, which include an unpublished novel. Hannah comments how Rachel always wanted their love to be private, while Hannah wanted to let the world know, and to save their stories for posterity. She recalls times when they passionately made love, and times when they simply played checkers. She also recalls that later in life, Rachel gave up her privacy and began telling people of her love for Hannah, despite the resistance she faced. By their middle age, the two were known as a couple, and Hannah remembers what comfort that gave her.
Despite their mutual happiness, Hannah went through another impulse to leave Rachel for some time, as she remembers. Since they had become public with their relationship and lived together for many years, Rachel cannot understand why Hannah needs to escape again, to which Hannah can only reply that she needs to get out of Michigan, she wants to try something new. Rachel gives Hannah the ultimatum that if she leaves again, she does not want her to ever come back, and Hannah quietly promises that she will try to stay.
Hannah receives a letter from her former lover in New Mexico and sends a thoughtful response. Just then, Greta arrives to tell Hannah that she has read her novel and she thinks she can get it published. Greta further reveals that she met Hannah when she was much younger, and that she helped give her the courage to come out in the past few years. Greta recalls how painful it was to watch her mother slowly die after the car accident that mortally wounded her, thereby explaining why Marge is so deeply aggrieved about now seeing her mother in a similar condition. Greta explains that she knew at some point she had to turn off her mothers life support and let her go. Now, Greta says, Hannah can do the same for Rachel.
Greta helps Hannah to Rachels bedside, and again sees the younger vision of Rachel in the room, asking Hannah to let her die in peace. Greta suddenly hears Rachels voice as well, and now that they both know she wants to pass away, they plan to turn off her life support. Marge enters at that moment and stops them, but Hannah encourages her to understand how they are doing the right thing. Marge too hears Rachel asking to be let go, and surrenders to the inevitable. Hannah climbs into Rachels bed and tenderly wraps herself around her lovers body, taking off Rachels oxygen mask as Greta turns off the machines.
Hannah remembers another day from her childhood with Rachel, running across a field together.