Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven ★★★★★

An Ennio Morricone-scored murder ballad. Everybody talks about how beautiful Malick can be, but I wish someone had told me that he can be base and ugly too; I would have gotten around to seeing this a lot sooner. One of the main characters here just wants to food-fight and fuck. And he's very handy with a screwdriver. Maybe it's my imagination, but the whole thing feels indebted to the Divina Commedia (dell'arte), combining elegant, timeless poetic/cinematic expression with an earthier, 'folk' traditional sensibility. It can do religious burlesque as well as religious epic. But it also ably negotiates a commitment to both spiritual beauty and grotesquery (that's not just poor syntax, the grotesquery is spiritual too).

Malick doesn't focus solely on natural 'beauty'. Nature is a lot more than just beautiful, and the most bestial parts of people are reflected in a lot of the wildlife on display. When the locusts arrive and we see close-ups of their desperation and hunger, and then get swarms of people madly trying to beat them out of the fields... it's gently incisive. It's also poetic in the truest sense. Poetry that doesn't ape reality, but distorts it, warps it, plays with big and small, high and low, macrocosm and microcosm colliding. Poetry that records peanut shells falling from helicopters and plays it back in reverse, somehow ending up with an electrifyingly kinetic slice of obliquely Christian iconography. Magic hour isn't just a beautiful time to shoot a movie. It's a trick of the light, a simultaneous presence and absence of the Sun, a ghost of a celestial body before the rest of the stars come out (the kid mentions the sun being ghostly towards the end, if I remember correctly). It's religious testament (there is much more light than what we can see) and religious torment (we can only see a dim after-glow of the true light). It's the natural world as cinema, an unseen light source projecting mood and texture onto the screen of reality. Then it all turns to shit because of some pettiness, like it did to begin with. Myth in motion, over and over, a folk song of Songs.

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