Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven ★★★★★

The second film of Terrence Malick is superior to Badlands (one of my favorite films), and already feels both anchored to a simple and clear narrative and to a complex poetry of visual beauty and glances and attention to nature and its workings simple and mysterious (or miraculous).

Helped by Ennio Morricone's classical-style score, and the cinematography of Néstor Alemandros and Haskell Wexler, the work of Terrence Malick in his writing and directing is so able in creating a movie of aesthetic, emotional, and thematic rapture and depth.

Critics have pointed out to the Old Testament echoes, whether the title being taken from Deuteronomy, to the plagues of locusts and fire that echo the plagues in Exodus, to the focus on land and human motive and action and the workings of the heart and exile from paradise that echo the themes of the Old Testament, to the sense of how it all plays out against the background of history and its changes.

Richard Gere and Brooke Adams as the couple, and Sam Shepard as the Farmer, and Linda Manz as Richard Gere's sister and almost detached narrator throughout the film, all help to carry through the movie. They also give what I think are rich characterizations in however elliptical and subdued a form. Like in Badlands, Terrence Malick keeps the potentially tempestuous under control.

Compared to Badlands, the canvas of this movie feels both smaller and wider. Wider, because there are more people, because there's a greater sense of historical change being alluded to and displayed throughout the movie, because there's a greater sense of the natural world around it, and because the plot is not as limited as it was in Badlands. But also smaller, because I sense at moments that this house, a kind of small paradise, sticks out against the wide expanse of nature, and it seems to stick out from the rest of the world, for a while.

Days of Heaven is one of the prime examples of cinema at its most "poetic," in the sense of a contemplative sense of both the detail and the whole together, of something that functions with both precision and something beyond precision, of something that makes you see things differently and with a fresher, clearer view.

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