Days of Heaven Reviews
This melodrama is something that typically turns me off and it would have here were it not for Malick's ability, along with DPs Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler, to capture one of the most beautiful mid-west films I have ever watched. Every single shot gave something special and almost unique (which is troublesome when filming in a wheat field). I can hardly recommend Days of Heaven enough.
That's a quote taken from actress Linda Manz who narrates Terrence Malick's second feature film "Days of Heaven," which is such a remarkable and breathtaking film as all of Malick's films are as we can clearly see from beginning to end as Malick gets perfect shot after perfect shot of the beautiful nature scenes that he is so famous for doing in all of his films. The movie takes place somewhere in the Midwest outside Chicago, Illinois, where narrator and actress Linda Maze, goes on a this beautiful journey out into the Midwest with her older brother and guardian who just so happens to be a very young and magnetic looking Richard Gere and his girlfriend who is played by the very talented Brooke Adams, after Gere's character accidentally kills a fellow worker in by hitting him over the head with a shovel after a dispute between the two men in a Chicago factory. Gere's character then goes on the run with his little sister and girlfriend as all three head out into the magnificent wheat fields in the Midwest where they immediately begin work in a wheat field owned by Sam Shephard, who takes an immediate liking to Brooke Adams once he lays eyes on her. Before they arrive at the wheat field, they tell everybody aboard the train that Gere and Adams are sisters, not lovers so they do not arouse any suspicion invade they are being looked for after Gere's incident at the Chicago factory with the worker that he killed. They hustle and earn three dollars a day, which by the way I am guessing the movie takes place sometime in the early 1900's so three dollars an hour is really not that bad for a days pay back then. But things get complicated when Shepard's character begins to take a liking to Brooke Adams and asks her to stay on the wheat farm and continue working on the wheat farm after the harvest is over. Once she relays the message back to Richard Gere, he tells her to do it and possibly put on a show for him so that if he falls in love with her, all three of them can remain on the farm. The thing is though that we find out early when we meet Shepard's character that he is dying and only has a year to live. What he is dying from remains unknown, but we can assume it is probably cancer or some other type of major illness. Once Gere figures out what is happening to Shepard, he figures if he falls in love with Adams and marries her and they remain in the wheat farm, when Shepard dies, they can inherit the wheat farm. So Brooke Adams says yes to Shepard's offer on the condition that Gere and Manz stay with her on the wheat farm as she informs Shepard that Richard Gere is her brother not her lover, even Brooke Adams and Richard Gere continue romancing with each other on the side, even after Shepard marries Adams. Things go good for a while until Shepard grows suspicion that Gere and Adams are not who they say they are after seeing them touch each other sexually as he is walking along his wheat farm at night during which a belly dancer dances for them inside a little hut and then after confronting Adams about it and flat out denying it to his face, Adams begins to worry about Shepard finding out as she fears she is going to hurt him if he finds out. That's when Richard Gere realizes that Adams has fallen in love with Shepard and that this is now become a serious problem for all three of them. Even before when Shepard was warned by his over looker of the wheat farm who knows that Gere, Adams, and Manz are not who they say they are, Shepard refuses to hear it. That is until he sees from a distance on top of his farm house when Adams touches Gere on the face as if a happy together would do to one another, we then get a real close up look of Shepard back inside under the roof as we can clearly see by his expression on his face that he feels truly betrayed. This is where the last hour turns into a somewhat revenge saga as Shepard tries to attack Richard Gere during an infestation of what seems to be cicadas which vastly threaten the wheat farm after they harvest all over the wheat fields, eating everything insight. Shepard attacks Gere with a torch lamp that by accident breaks when swinging at Gere which ends up putting almost the whole farm up in flames as everyone working in the wheat field tries everything in their power to put the large flames out. Shepard then takes matters into his own hands as he gets a pistol from his room after giving Adams a hard look that he knows what is going on, and goes after Gere in which Gere ends up *SPOILER ALERT* killing Shepard in self defense with a knifing tool. Realizing now that he is in deep shit Gere quickly takes Adams and Manz and they quickly escape from the wheat farm before anybody finds out that Shepard has been killed. Once discovered by the over looker that made it clear to Richard Gere that he knows what he's up to and that Shepard is like a son to him, it then becomes a manhunt to track and kill Richard Gere in the last half hour of the film. The movie is absolutely filled with great Terrence Malick magic of nature as I said before that will definitely suck in all die hard Malick fans as Malick truly is in my opinion a director from God himself, as he truly is a gifted visualizer of movies. "Days of Heaven" definitely deserves to be in the top 100 best movies ever made as for that time in the late 1970's to capture what Malick had captured in this movie I can only imagine must have been staggering to watch at that time. The man has a true gift for both animals and nature, which definitely brings up the conclusion that Terrence Malick will go down in history as one of the most gifted, compelling, and artistic directors to ever walk the face of this earth. God bless him.
Days of Heaven presents a more mature vision, but an evolving perspective on reality that retains grounding through the insightful but limited perspective of a child's musings of a past that seems to have either immediately occurred or happened not too long ago.
The tone and plot of Days of Heaven is quite different in respect to Badlands. Yet there is stream of cinematic thought that connects both films.
Where Badlands was an almost detached view of reality, Days of Heaven takes the form of a cinematic poem connected to the characters by a child whose life has required her to adapt a slightly skewed version of an adult.
While it never quite soars to the level of Badlands -- it clearly soars to what Malick intended. This would be the last time Malick approached humanity from what I would term a "human emotional" perspective. Malick's style would and continues to sprout further into the realm of the experimental with aspects of "nature" and even "metaphysical" replacing the less challenging perspectives presented here and in Badlands.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. But Malick's cinematic perspective no longer blend easily with Humanity, Surrealism or Experimental Film. After this movie Malick's films have become polarizing. How an individual manages to access understanding and connection to his work has now become more radical.
From my perspective this is sad. He has never managed to capture humanity as simply as he did with his second and third movies.
It is interesting to me that Lynda Manz's character delivered one narrative line that I so seared into my then 11 year old mind that I can still recite it easily today:
"I was hopin' things would work out for her. She was a good friend of mine." ...and the meanings/powers of the line have changed over the span of my life.
However, the story never really seems to become much of anything.
The beginning is horribly rushed and the great meaning is somewhat blunted by the film's lack of involving storytelling and mostly simple plot.
This could have been so much more.
Days of Heaven is a beautifully made film, but not a beautifully written one.