Days Of Heaven

1978, Movie, PG, 95 mins


Set in the postindustrial revolution America of the early 1900s, DAYS OF HEAVEN chronicles the odyssey of a rootless migrant laborer (Gere), his little sister (Manz), and his soulmate (Adams), as they flee the industrial blight of the city for the sanctuary and anonymity of the Heartland. When the impulsive and hot-tempered Gere kills a steel-mill foreman in anger, the three jump a train and head for the plains of Texas, merging with the endless caravan of homeless immigrants looking for work. Their journey brings them to the land of wealthy, self-made wheat farmer Shepard, who offers them employment during the harvest.

An enigmatic figure, Shepard, living alone in a huge Victorian mansion that overlooks his golden empire, is slowly wasting away from some illness. As he watches Adams work in the fields, he grows to love her--as Pharaoh did young Sarah in the Old Testament story--and sees some private salvation in making her his "queen." Gere learns of the farmer's illness and, reasoning that the powerful farmer will be dead soon, contrives like Abraham of old to masquerade with Adams as brother and sister thereby allowing Shepard to marry Adams and plant the seeds of a future inheritance. For a time after the marriage, the four live together as a family in a state of grace and sublime happiness. The scheme goes awry, however, when Adams begins to genuinely care for Shepard. When Shepard realizes the lovers' duplicity, his rage is that of the Old Testament Pharoah, on whose lands Jehovah's wrathful plagues fell. The contest between the two suitors precipitates a holocaust that blows apart the fragile paradise that so briefly flourished.

Director Malick endows this simple, timeless story with the enormous scope and resonance of myth through a clear vision unclouded by sentimentality and by a deft juxtaposition of image, music, and character. Although this is only his second feature film (BADLANDS, made five years earlier, was his first), he demonstrates a mastery of cinematic technique. The story is rich with Biblical and mythical allusions: there are echoes of Genesis, the Wasteland myth, and Greek tragedy. The vast, uncluttered compositions sometimes render the characters as little more than puppets in the hands of fate, reinforcing the universality of the story. Almendros's hyper-realistic cinematography is breathtaking.

The dialogue is sparse and almost incidental, the characters' words insignificant amidst the pervasive whisper of the wheat, the clatter of the threshing machines, and the awful drone of the locust horde that accompanies the final holocaust. The sound alone is astonishing. Morricone's haunting, wistful score adds measurably to the sweep and timelessness of the film. leave a comment

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