Days of Heaven (1978)

PG   |    |  Drama, Romance


Days of Heaven (1978) Poster

A hot-tempered farm laborer convinces the woman he loves to marry their rich but dying boss so that they can have a claim to his fortune.


7.8/10
52,735

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15 August 2009 | ackstasis
8
| "You'd give him a flower, he'd keep it forever"
Terrence Malick is less a storyteller than a visual poet. At times, the images in 'Days of Heaven (1978)' seem too beautiful to be believed – could Mother Nature even construct such moments of magnificence at her own accord? Cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler (credited only as "additional photographer") consistently shot the film during the "magic hour" between darkness and sunrise/sunset, when the sun's radiance is missing from the sky, and so their colours have a muted presence, as though filtered through the stalks of wheat that saturate the landscape. Crucial alongside the film's photographers are composer Ennio Morricone – utilising a variation on the seventh movement ("Aquarium") in Camille Saint-Saëns's "Carnival of the Animals" suite – and a succession of sound editors, whose work brings a dreamy, ethereal edge to the vast fields of the Texas Panhandle. The film's final act, away from the wheat-fields, recalls Arthur Penn's 'Bonnie and Clyde (1967),' but otherwise Malick's style, contemplative and elegiac, is in a class of its own, more comparable perhaps to Kurosawa's 'Dersu Uzala (1975).'

Malick refuses to explore his characters' motivations. The viewer is deliberately kept at an arm's length, and Malick eschews cinema's traditional notions of narrative development. Instead, the story is told as a succession of fleeting moments, the sort that a young girl (the film's narrator, Linda Manz) might pick up through her day-to-day experiences and muted understanding of adult emotions. Note that the girl is always kept separate from the dramatic crux of the film – the love-triangle between Billy, Abby, and the Farmer – and her comprehension of events is tainted by her adolescent grasp on adult relationships and societal norms. I was reminded of Andrew Dominik's recent 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)' {another sumptuously-photographed picture}, which also refused to explore its title character, Jesse James, kept at a distance through the impartial objectivity of the historical narrator. In Malick's film, Linda's narration tells us one thing, and the viewer sees another. But one can never fully understand the complex emotions driving human behaviour, so perhaps the girl's perspective is as good as any other.

'Days of Heaven' derives its title from a passage in the Bible (Deuteronomy 11:21), and Malick's tale of jealousy and desire is suitably Biblical in nature. Essential to this allegory is an apocalyptic plague of locusts, which descend upon the wheat-fields like an army from the heavens. When the fields erupt into flame, quite literally from the broiling emotions of the film's conflicted characters, the viewer is confronted by the most intense manifestation of Hell-on- Earth since the burning village in Bondarchuk's 'War and Peace (1967).' But, interestingly, Malick here regresses on his own allegory: Judgement Day isn't the end, but rather it comes and goes. Life is driven by the inexorable march of Fate: The Farmer (Sam Shepard) is doomed to die within a year; Bill (Richard Gere) is doomed to repeat his mistakes twice over. In the film's final moments, Linda and her newfound friend embark purposelessly along the railway tracks, the tracks being a physical incarnation of Fate itself: their paths are laid down already, but we mortals can never know precisely where they lead until we get there.

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Details

Release Date:

6 October 1978

Language

English, Italian


Country of Origin

USA

Filming Locations

Raymond, Alberta, Canada

Box Office

Budget:

$3,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$3,446,749

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$3,475,702

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