Days of Heaven (1978)


Days of Heaven (1978)I’ve been keeping a look out for Days of Heaven (1978) ever since I heard an interview with Richard Gere on the radio whilst promoting a recent film. Mentioning his working and understanding of Terrence Malick it was enough to get me searching. The second feature-length film by the auteur (dare I say it) who has only directed a handful of visually distinctive films. His next film would not be for 20 years, The Thin Red Line (1998). I can see the direction he is going in visually, from the murderous road-trip of Badlands (1973) to the failure of an American dream in Days of Heaven (1978) to the almost serene war film on the Pacific front of Red Line (1998). Each have the effective voice over in some way or another to give some sort of a human connection to the imagery.

Moving away from all the comparing and contrasting of Malicks small back catalogue to the crux of this film, running slightly longer than the Martin Sheen film we have a failed American dream at the turn of the century as three people leave Chicago to go south in search of a better life. Bill, Abby and young Linda (Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Linda Manz). They get a job panhandling for a farmer (Sam Shepard) in Texas, working the fields for a season along with others escaping the poverty of the modern cities.

There’s a pretty even split on the focus of plot and cuts to pure nature, working in those lingering shots of nature and the sounds of a developing world around us, deafening out the men who populate. They just don’t really count when you think about it. Even the love-triangle between the three leads is secondary really plays second fiddle really to the ambience of the great outdoors that is Texas. You can see where this leads Malick 20 years later.

What ties it altogether is the narration of Linda who acts more as an onlooker into the events between the adults. Trying to understand what is going on, reflecting back on her life or the year or so that saw her move from the city wandering the country. She is also a radical change from the more southern Sissey Spacek who was plain confused by what was going on between her and Sheen’s wannabe James Dean character Kit. Theres more an urban innocence of what is going on, both girls around the same age, trying to understand what is going on around them, making sense of these events as they unfold for us.

The more I see of Malick’s work the more I understand the film, I am hoping to rematch The Tree of Life (2011) which was my first encounter which needs to be re-evaluated. My understand is far clearer, with a fascination for the lingering shots of nature, pointing the camera away from the conventional content of American cinema figures in a situation that develops before being resolved, pulling away to see what is around that developing plot, characters who grow and change, before everything is concluded. We see the beginning of far more going on, with natural history style camera work. The acting is highly stylised which I’m not surprised at really, paling away next to the ambience and nature that is captured, the American dream has to fight against nature to prosper.

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3 responses

  1. Days of Heaven is available on either Blu-ray or DVD as part of the Criterion Collection. You can get it at Barnes & Noble.

    December 24, 2014 at 9:45 pm

  2. Good review Tim. It’s a beautiful-looking movie, but also excels at telling a compelling story. More so than most of Malick’s other flicks.

    December 25, 2014 at 12:42 am

    • Cheers, yeah he’s more caught up with imagery than plot these days. The lack of dialogue allows you to get inside the psychology of the characters more than most films.

      December 25, 2014 at 11:35 am

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