Days of Heaven (1978)

Written & Directed by Terrence Malick

Where do I even begin with such a film? Why not just where my mind takes me when I think of this film, how’s that? Well the first thing I think about, and probably what most people think about, is the immense beauty contained within this film. It starts with the cinematography, but truthfully goes even deeper than that. But starting with those famous images, the cinematography is what I would consider the best there has ever been. The film takes place predominately the wheat fields of West Texas, though the film was shot in Canada. Look, I know this is going to sound weird, but I love watching wheat fields. I love when the farms around here are full grown because I just stop, stare and admire. It’s weird, but I truly think it is one of the most beautiful things in the world. So when director Terrence Malick and cinematographer Nestor Almendros did what they did with the wheat fields, oh my goodness! They capture such beauty just with camera movements, framing, and the extensive use of the ever so beautiful “magic hour”. I think this is just one of those miracle marriages of fantastic vision and talent with great luck with weather and location. It is truly a work of art and would stand as one of my favorite films if all it was was images. But it’s not!

No, there is so much more, like the great story to go along with it. Bill (Richard Gere) accidently kills the foreman at his factory in Chicago, causing him to flee to Texas with his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and kid sister Linda (Linda Manz). Once there they find work on a farmer’s (Sam Shepard) wheat farm. Once the wealthy man takes a liking to Abby, Bill, who has been pretending Abby is his sister instead of his lover, springs the idea for her to marry the dying Farmer to eventually gain his wealth. But it seems Abby’s love has rejuvenated him, and Abby starts to fall for him too. Eventually all of the evil surrounding the situation boils over and everyone, including the farm, comes in jeopardy of the wrath of man vs. nature.

Nature is one of the themes which Malick deals with extensively in his films and especially man’s conflict with both the physical nature around him as well as the nature of man. That is what I find so fascinating with his films and none of them do it quite as well as “Days of Heaven”. The story, which I might rank least of all of this films attributes, is still one that brings great thought and consideration to the viewer while at the same time being compelling and interesting. Malick is also known for his extensive use of the voice-over. In this case Linda has the honor of narrating the story, which seems perfect to tell this story from the perspective of the innocent girl. Her natural narration and storytelling seems to mirror that of Malick’s ability to tell this story in the same manner, yet instill such complex themes and morals.

The acting all around seems perfectly cast as well. Brooke Adams may be the only one that ever feels out of place, but even then it is intermittently. Richard Gere shows the raw attitude of Bill and Sam Shepard really plays a great defeated, then rejuvenated Farmer. And Linda Manz, who went on to not do much afterward, is really strong in the narrator’s role.

This is a film that I have now seen about four times, and I must say that it is one of those films that just gets better and better every time I watch it, and I think that has something to do with the filmmaking of Malick. “Days of Heaven” is a film that I will continue to come back to and continue to just drool over in all aspects of its filmmaking. I made a comment the other day while watching it. My facebook status was as follows: “I am literally laughing at how ridiculous this film is. The images are so beautiful they make me laugh.” Something tells me this won’t happen very often. And it also tells me that “Days of Heaven” is not only one of Malick’s masterpieces, but also one of my favorite films of all time.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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