"Days of Heaven" (1978) is the Terrence Malick film before his notorious 20-year hiatus. It was the introduction of Sam Shepard to movie-viewers and it is almost incontestably the most gorgeously photographed film ever made. Terrence Malick, a former philosophy instructor made his first film "Badlands" in 1973, which is an road-movie about wanderers and a meditation on the soul-scape of America. His second film, mulls over the migrant farm workers of the early 20th century, scattering from one place to the next, drifting with the seasons.
Reducing the film to its plot would be far too confining. It mostly observes life as it happens and communicates the feeling of smallness, the people who set out to harvest America must have felt when confronted to the hugeness of the land. The film is set in the pre-industrial revolution of America, in the 1910s. Bill (Richard Gere) is an hot-headed young man, who loses his job shoveling coal in a Chicago steel factory after a brawl with the foreman.Along with his little sister Linda (Linda Manz), and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), he flees from the industrial blight of the city to the harsh, sanctuary of the Heartland.
They work with many homeless immigrants, in the wheat fields of Texas. The land belongs to a wealthy, self made wheat man farmer (Sam Shepard). He lives alone in a huge mansion house and is slowly dying from some illness. When the rich farmer takes a fancy to Abby, Bill sees a way to break out from poverty. Bill has disguised his relationship with Abby as a brother-sister bond and urges her to marry him for the inheritance, failing to consider the complexities of bargaining with human emotions. The young girl, Linda, (unusually clear-eyed for her age) observes everything, her childhood growing thin and she narrates the story, in a naive but cynical way.
"Days of Heaven" should be seen for Terrence Malick's vision and for the images, the cinematographers Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler put before our eyes. Some of those are like the impressionist paintings. They are the most beautifully suggestive imagery to cross the screen: fields of wheat riffling in the wind; a diverse community of farm hands bathing in a river; laborers bent down hard at work under the glaring sun; a festive celebration at harvest time with a black man dancing his heart out on a plank of wood. The cinematography reaches a threshold point, when it covers the invasion of a plague of locusts.
Director Terrence Malick tells his story in small, obtuse movements, where even the dialogue is reduced to tiny fragments of a holistic whole.He attractively transcends the simple purposes of film. The simple storyline is amalgamated to suit his favorite themes. He contemplates the ever-present preoccupations about man’s frailty in the face of nature’s power and God’s indifference to man's petty concerns. In the end, we feel a haunting sense of waywardness, of the roaming millions who have toiled away on fields and in factories, fading into the past, unnoticed.
Another inclusion to the film's impressive crew is the masterful composer Ennio Morricone, whose score sweeps out of the film, majestically evoking a dawn of change with pensive progression. Nothing is ever said in a straightforward manner in Malick's film. We have to feel it and, travel along its dreamlike path. His movies are masterpiece because of its sensory triumph and unsurpassed textural pleasure. Like all great movies, ”Days of Heaven” is universal in its theme and story. The events in the film may occur in a specific time and place in American history, but the film carries strong mythic, allegorical, and even biblical meanings. It is open and ambiguous to allow for various readings by its viewers.
"Days of Heaven" is a landmark film and motion pictures equivalent to poetry.
Days of Heaven -- IMDb