Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven ★★★★★

"No alphonse quote this time!"

I'm beginning to think that Days of Heaven might actually be my favorite Malick. It's missing the quality of The Thin Red Line's voiceover, which has a bit more thematic clarity, and it's missing the "Birth of the Universe" sequence from The Tree of Life, which has a bit more scope (not to mention technical ambition and beauty), but the fact that it so soundly and succinctly accomplishes what it sets out for really appeals to me. I think Thin Red Line and Tree of Life might have higher aspirations, but they also falter more in their step or stretch their material. Maybe I'm crazy, but Days of Heaven is the first disc I reach for on my shelf when I want the Malick experience. (Maybe it's just the fact that it's the shortest makes it the easiest to consume. It may also turn out that, as with other directors, my favorite film is the one I've seen most recently.)

Two things I focused on this time around:

1. Richard Gere's character Bill is almost thoroughly unlikable until near the end of the film. We side with him initially because he seems to be the victim of industrialization or Big Business (Malick smartly leaves this scene "silent", sonically overshadowing it with the surrounding machinery); but it slowly becomes apparent that he's just a brash guy, short-fused and quick to anger and violence. That is, until he goes away and comes back a much smarter man. It's for this reason that I always find so touching the moment where he admits to Brooke Adams's Abby that she did nothing wrong, that it was his own fault she left him. His character comes full circle in a really beautiful way.

2. Linda Manz is some sort of cinematic miracle. Her voiceover drives the entire movie, and yet it turns out that it was unscripted, that Malick simply replayed the movie and recorded her explaining what was going on in a variety of scenes. (The exception to this is the scene where she talks about everything "going up in flames," which was apparently a story she heard from one of the extras on set.) It's one of those happy accidents that make the movie that much more perfect, because it could never happen any other way. She covers so much thematic ground (unknowingly), but this time through I was most interested in the way she talks about themes of class and capitalism (themes which now find themselves forced into just about every contemporary tale of America or the American dream, but which are somehow more eloquent here).

“From the time the sun went up till it went down, they were working all the time, non-stop. Just keep going. You didn't work, they’d ship you right out of there. They don’t need you. They can always get somebody else.”

“He figured some people need more than they got, other people got more than they need. Just a matter of getting us all together.”

"We've never been this rich, all right? I mean, we were just all of a sudden living like kings. Just nothing to do all day but crack jokes and lay around. We didn't have to work. I’m telling you, the rich got it figured out.”

Also, I love the perfect irony that the "days of heaven" sequence is followed by Linda saying, "I think the devil was on the farm." God/Heaven is never completely separated by its opposite pairing Devil/Hell; the two are constitutively intertwined. They are, by nature of their dialectical synthesis, the same.

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