Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven ★★★★★

You know we had to do it for Linda.

A western as concerned with itinerant labor and the casual exploitation of immigrants and the poor as Heaven's Gate, but with an eye for accuracy sublimated into abstract reverie. Fleeting glimpses of overlapping immigrant cultures, fitful happiness and rage punctuate the central drama of a futile scheme by two directionless lovers to break out of the cycle of work and drifting, and the ambient social context gives the movie as much of its strange, longing energy as the lopsided love triangle. I really don't think Malick gets enough credit for his social grounding in general; you can draw a straight line from Shepard's Edward Hopper-esque house on the hill here to the unfinished subdivision in To the Wonder as symbols of two eras of pointless, self-defeating capitalist expansion. That Shepard and his hired field bosses work laborers like mules to accumulate wealth that his farmer will not even live to enjoy only validates the look of seething rage that is constantly on Richard Gere's face. The hellish climax becomes a Biblical reckoning for these intersecting lines of romantic and capitalist exploitation and jealousy, a divine punishment to any and all caught up in this hollow existence.

Almendros's cinematography is so intoxicating I wouldn't mind if every shot lasted an hour, and Morricone's score is among his best work, but of course so much of the film's power comes from Manz's narration. Still the high-water mark of Malick's voiceovers, Manz makes poetry out of her resolutely concrete descriptions. With her heavy New York enunciation and simple observations, she's hypnotizing as she seems to slip in and out of character, to the point that those final lines could be as much a reference to her own character as the girl's new friend.

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