Days of Heaven Reviews
Never have I cared more in my life about the fate of a field of wheat than I did in Days of Heaven (1978), but it's not just the agricultural landscape that we're invested in during this film as we have four deliberately sketched characters each with their own passions, motivations, flaws and fears in this remarkably short American epic.
The film concerns Abby and Bill, two young lovers/con-artists who tell employers that they are siblings, "Because it's easier that way", and Bill's younger sister Linda who travels with them on their journeys around the United States usually caused by Bill's temper getting the best of him. This time he has severely injured or killed his employer at a steel mill and he and the two women in his life have to escape from Chicago before the police find him. They end up on a farm owned by a mysterious and ethereal but lonely farmer who has an intense attraction to Abby. When Bill sees a way to manipulate this it spells trouble for all involved.
It is a tribute to the incomparable Terrence Malick that he manages to cram this much emotion and meaning into just 94 minutes with some of the most beautiful cinematography ever seen on film and the flowing, poetic passages that Malick would become known for springing from the lips of Linda Manz. The style that Malick would become associated with over his next 6 films, elements of which were developed in Badlands, are fully solidified here with natural light drenching every frame, women in flowing dresses frolicking in fields, poetic voiceovers, operatic music that swells dramatically at moments of grief and a lack of dialogue all present. What makes these elements all work so well when compared to Song to Song or To the Wonder is that the film's short running time allows you to marvel at the beauty and visual poetry that Malick creates without becoming bored with the slight story or confused by the lack of dialogue, Days of Heaven never outstays it welcome and that makes it near perfect.
The performances although largely non-verbal are also terrific with Richard Gere's fractious, manipulative performance as Bill shows just how interesting he can be as a performer when not saddled with the task of being a stolid, flawless, leading man. Here he plays a man who is clearly flawed and yet Gere has a sensitivity that allows us to care about this anti-hero. Sam Shepard is equally wonderful but entirely different as Gere's romantic rival, simply â~The Farmer', he has an innocent, almost angelic quality that makes us even more saddened when he faces an enemy that cannot be defeated. Linda Manz gives a remarkable performance as a child actor making Linda seem both without the annoying precociousness that child actors often employ and yet still self-aware and understanding of her situation, making her character uniquely able to serve as a mouthpiece for Malick's idealistic, almost childlike views. Brooke Adams is successful in playing a conflicted object of desire and her dark eyes and pinched face do everything they can to convey to us the depths of her torment as he struggles with her love for two very different men. Without performances with this level of depth this story could easily slide into being just another clichÃ (C)d love triangle but it manages to avoid this by crafting characters whose anxieties feel real and relatable no matter how outlandish the story on paper may seem.
The portrait of this period of American history that Linda Manz clearly sketches in her monologues discuss the unique problems that these people faced and at the same time the idyllic, simple lives they lived. This contrast does not feel imbalanced and it does not feel like Linda lurches between the positive and negative view of her life on the wheat field, it simply feels like a young girl's insightful view of the world she lives one, one that perfectly accompanies the overall tone of the film.
I would definitely recommend this film to all audiences because it is beautiful, insightful, sensitive, features great performances and is one of 4 masterpieces that Terrence Malick has made and is in my opinion his best film. I engaged with it even more than I did with The New World (2005), therefore I would call it Malick's best film.
'Days of Heaven' is a mesmerizing film that captures the beauty and calm activities in life, while having this unexplained sadness underneath. At the end, you learn that memories, good or bad, will occasionally haunt your thoughts and emotional state - since the film is about someone reflecting on their memory.
My relationship with Terrence Malick can be complicated, but when he scores, it's remarkable.
One of the highest forms of art.
Days Of Heaven
The cinematography as always is stunning in a metaphorical tone that communicates to audience about the fueled intense exoticism that is explored in here. Terrence Malick's; the writer-director, keeps it simple on paper but takes out his big guns while executing (it surpasses the script) which is mesmerizing and thought provoking at the same time. On performance level, Richard Gere has done some decent work but other than that it seems like it wasn't Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard's forte. Days Of Heaven is weak on offering fresh or concrete material and performance, but still works like a charm due to the deep ideology and anatomy of human nature in all aspects of its time with different perspective.
After a steelworker named Bill accidentally kills his boss in a fight, he, his wife, Abby, and his daughter, Linda flee to the Texas panhandle where they join a farm and pose as brother and sister to avoid gossip. However, after the farmer falls in love with Abby, that action begins to brew jealousy and trouble.
The editing had a lasting impact on me. Most of the scenes of dialogue are short as they only consist of a few lines between the characters before the movie changes to another scene. Those short scenes of dialogue make the movie feel like it's always in motion. It's a creative way of telling its story, because it commonly feels poetic. It appears to move from one scene to another in a swift fashion that I haven't seen done the same way before. This method of storytelling was not only unique, but it did a great job at engaging me. With that being said, the film is not easily absorbed in one viewing as it's easy to miss certain character motivations if you don't pay full attention to what goes on in the film. The editing in this movie reminded me of the discontinuity editing is Godard's "Breathless". Both films evoked similar feelings in terms of their editing.
All the Malick films I've seen have delivered on their cinematography. This film was no exception. The outdoor shots were breathtaking largely because most of the film was shot during golden hour (the period during sunrise and sunset). The slight redness of the skies not only made the film feel atmospheric, but it also immersed me into the backbreaking work which had to be done around the farm. Despite just looking nice, I also felt like the cinematography showed how insignificant the characters were. I first noticed this when the film would show several people working while the house would be far off in the distance. On top of those shots, there were also many shots of the horizon, wheat stems blowing in the breeze, and close-ups of different insects. I couldn't help, but think that the characters were parts of a larger whole. The contrast between the camera focusing on immense scenes of nature and mixing in character drama by showing short clips near the middle or ends of conversations showed that the protagonists were tiny specks in the vast agricultural setting the film took place in.
On top of that, there are also several great visual set pieces. The most famous of which is the locust swarm. Its arrival is menacing as first, we hear eerie sounds and music followed by a few locusts in a kitchen followed by thousands of locusts in the wheat fields. Like many other critics have pointed out in the past, this scene signals the beginning of the end. Another great scene which I don't feel is brought up enough is when Bill takes Abby out of the bedroom while she's sleeping with the farmer. This is a vital scene as it's the first to reveal Bill's hatred of the farmer's relationship with his wife. What I like about that scene is after the 2 leave, we see a shot of a gazebo the characters stayed in earlier. Only this time, however, the color pallet of that shot is dull and gray, almost like the movie is warning us that the film will only go downhill from there.
Some people complained that the story was too slight. However, I disagree. It may seem like a simple story on the surface. However, there are a few layers of subtlety to the film which make it stick out. I mainly liked the subtle delivery of the character motivations, because, in my opinion, that's the best way a film can utilize subtlety. An important scene in terms of the motivations is how Bill persuading Abby to marry the farmer is lightly touched on. It can be easy to miss the dialogue which reveals that if you're not paying full attention (I missed it on my first viewing). However, once you pick up on that scene, you start to notice several preceding subtle scenes which lead up to it. Once you pick up on that, it becomes impossible to look away from the film. Another subtle scene was how one of Linda's friends leaves the farm only to come back later in the film. Her reappearance is sudden, but necessary. Because of this, I'd say that the story aspect is also well-done. Anyways, what I have to say to the people who criticized the movie for this reason is to try watching it again with what I said in mind, because if you do, you may appreciate the movie more.
In conclusion, I thought this film was superb. On top of the great cinematography, visual set pieces, and subtlety, Malick's decision to make most of the scenes of dialogue short helped to make this film feel poetic and mysterious at times. The funny thing is that I was putting off seeing Malick's older work for quite some time. I honestly don't know why I waited so long. Maybe I didn't think he would top "The Tree of Life" or something. I don't know. However, I'm going to check out "Badlands" soon as this film blew me away.
While the movie was amazing, and I will definitely be watching it again, it felt too short of a movie. It felt like Terrence took a movie that was supposed to be 3 hours long, and condensed it to half of that.
Nonetheless, this movie was beautiful in every sense of the word.