Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven ★★★★★

With To the Wonder’s not being released in my area, I popped in this Terry Malick film I’ve meaning to watch for quite some time. It’s absolutely astonishing! Simple is the last word I would use. Malick’s sophomore film is harrowing character study of a not so loving love triangle and digs deep at the human spirit. With a simple story containing a plethora of subtext, touching character portrayals, and fantastic technical achievements, it’s difficult to attest this film’s greatness.

First off, the use of a narrator is fantastic and is the only way the audience has a chance to connect with this story of greed and love. The narrator has an exasperating voice and tone, but that’s exactly what the film needs. Malick wants the audience to be immersed by his story. By having a voice that rings of struggle and despair; the narrator is the right choice. Rather than just have main actors portray the film’s ideas, he utilizes a silent observer as the perfect story teller of this intimate story. But it should be the screenplay that should be on the metaphoric pedestal.

I couldn’t help but see the similarities to Frankenstein and Malick’s sophomore effort. Days of Heaven is a story of figurative resurrection of souls that were dead and the eventual demise of the monster their plan created. Gere plays a young man that wants the easy way in life after living his life in poverty. He asks his girlfriend (Adams) to marry their handsome dying boss (Shepard) so they may inherit his great wealth. She’s hesitant but eventually succumbs to the pressures. Both Gere and Adams think the idea will change their lives for the best. And it does…for a while.

They are happy for the time being and Shepard is buying into the two cons’ scheme, even supporting Gere (who says he’s Adams’ brother, not lover) and the narrator. Gere says in the beginning that “it won’t always be like this”. He was right; life wasn’t always terrible for them. There were times of joy, but thanks to physics, we know, what comes up, must come down. And by use of foreshadow, Malick slowly brings them back down to Earth.

One notable example of foreshadowing is the constant watcher of the family. The first watchful guardian is the farm moderator. Next a scarecrow and the father figure of the owner. Lastly a scarecrow that resembles the old man that left. Soon after the last scene containing a “watcher”, Shepard figures out what Gere and Adams planning. It’s as if a sentinel told him about their conniving naturel; he snaps. This leads to another more noticeable foreshadow, “The whole Earth will go up in flames”. When Shepard breaks down, he starts up a fight with Gere and sets the Earth on fire in the process. In the aforementioned passage, it is also said along these lines, “God will have no mercy on the sinners. He will not even hear their screams. And the Earth will be their hell, and the innocent will go to Heaven.” This leads to the title of the film.

Gere and his family were living a life in heaven for a short time; days compared to their eternity of suffering. After their time of bliss though, after the fire creates hell, the three love birds are cast into eternal damnation on hell. Some die for their sins, others will feel deep remorse for their deeds. And it’s the narrator that gets a way scotch free.

She’s a child and remarkably observant, but she didn’t do anything wrong. She was innocent of the sins her brother committed as well as his love interest. Malick is speaking to the audience to remind them that even in a world of hate, the young remain pure because they don’t have hate. But there are a few characters that are hate each other; Gere and Shepard.

These characters are polar opposites, yet each attracts Adams’ character. Gere is rich in ambition, healthy, loving, and charismatic. Shepard contrasts each characteristic, especially being wealthy. Yet, even with the farmer’s wealth and power, Gere feels superiority over Shepard because of the situation the farmer is in and that Gere has a passionate love for Adams. Malick also reminds us that we’re not alone. There will always be a heaven-esque feel to the world, nature.

Malick uses incredible lighting and framing to capture the essence of God’s green earth. Whether the shot contains a herd of buffalo or a single grain of wheat, the scene is picturesque. A lot of the shots may seem pretentious. I say they are anything but pretentious though; simply adding another element to this “love” story. He is also providing an underlying message of adapting to the situation. He shows that in this chaotic world, nature just adapts to survive. That nature doesn’t care what happens, they just want to live. As impeccable as these scenes are cinematically, the cinematography is just as perfect when they contain imperfect souls.

He captures each moment of the main characters and scenes with utmost beauty and connotation. Gere is shot in such a way to show his ever changing emotions. The angles on his character resemble his feelings of: mania, awe, tediousness, jealousy, and pleasure. The other character Malick focuses on is the farmer. He’s always shown in a godlike manner. The angles of triumph and deep shadows give him a face of ultimate power. Malick also uses great lighting on the farmer to show his moods of anger, happiness, and jealousness of Gere. This attention to character development leads to the farmer’s breaking point, and provides evidence of his character capable of such annihilation. But what really adds to the story is the atmosphere the art-direction in correlation with cinematography constructs.

The film begins as predominantly green backgrounds; life is fresh and exciting for the incoming families on the farm. As they spend more time on the farm, things become normal and die out, turning yellow and dull. Once Gere’s plan starts to unfold, everyone’s happy. Life feels pure as snow. But once Adams’ feelings form for the farmer, the sets start to turn black. Now everyone is in a depressed state of mind. Another turn of events occur, and the set is now a happy white; only for a short joyous time though. After the farmer figures out what had been going on all along, the camera focuses on red backgrounds to show the anger of the film.

This is where the iconic grasshopper scene comes into play. It is reminiscent of the plague of locusts in The Bible. As previously stated, the farmer is shown in a godlike way and this is his wrath coming down on everyone. He really doesn’t control the grasshoppers, but it seems like Malick was trying to emulate that.

Along with perfect visuals and astounding story, Days of Heaven has a great soundtrack to boot. Ennio Morricone is simply enamoring. He, essentially, provides three scores: the main theme joyous theme, a mysterious theme, and a love theme. Each track is perfect and adds a fourth dimension to the film.

I could easily type another two pages on Days of Heaven, but for the time’s sake, I won’t. Days of Heaven is easily one of the most beautiful films produced and I will gladly return to it anytime.

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