Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven ★★★★½

There are very rare films that come about that show us a story we’ve seen many times before but in such a new light. Terrence Malick’s second feature, Days of Heaven (1978), is one of those masterpieces.

The story is the type so old, it’s almost mythic: a hot-tempered man named Bill is on the run searching for a new home and job with his beloved Abby after accidentally committing a murder. That’s hardly the full story. What ensues is a beautifully painted piece of Americana and a tragic love triangle for the ages.

After finding a promising job laboring over a farm in early the 1900s along the Texas Panhandle, Bill, played so frustratingly by Richard Gere, convinces the graceful Abby to marry their wealthy boss. Told through the eyes of a child, the film unfolds giving us astounding amounts of metaphor and symbolism for such a fleeting experience.

Brooke Adams as Abby provides a sweet and tender dignity in the face of Gere’s Bill as he believes so strongly that the way of the world should attend to him once he decides the hard work and patience he gives is no longer enough for the two of them. Shepard’s performance as Bill and Abby’s dying boss, only known as The Farmer, gives such a solemn performance it’s as if he is God peering over the two of them. Malick presents us with nothing but The Farmer’s detailed house in the middle of a brightly-yellowed island of crops, an empire all to himself when all he cares for is the true love of Abby. Once she gets caught up in the deceit of two men’s misgivings, she can’t choose between either of them. Almost as if the Adam and Eve-like Bill and Abby are trapped in an Eden of opportunity, passion and despair.

Come the almost rapturous of endings: The Farmer’s downfall, Bill’s cowardice and Abby’s acceptance, we were left with a filmmaker on his way to give us a new and evocative way of storytelling. Through Malick’s transcendental style, and not in the way of today’s slow-cinema, was he able to further show how movies could become more contemplative, spiritual experiences. With the exception of his later films like The Tree of Life (2011) and Knight of Cups (2015), Malick’s style has been hardly redone to its perfection since Days of Heaven (1978).

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