By: Movie Snurb (A Toast) –
Terrence Malick’s sophomore effort is about a man (Richard Gere) who accidentally kills his boss at work in Chicago. So he takes his girlfriend and little sister to the panhandle of Texas to work on a farm and hide from the authorities. In hiding they pose as brother and sister not as boyfriend/girlfriend. At the farm they work for a farmer (Sam Shepard) who is dying from an unspecified illness. The farmer begins to fall for Gere’s girlfriend and they devise a plan for her to marry the farmer and when he dies they’ll run off with all of his money. It’s told through the eyes of Gere’s little sister, using voiceover as if she’s reminiscing to her grandchildren or someone writing a book or article.
I will say up front that this is possibly the most beautiful film I have ever seen only behind Lawrence of Arabia. The cinematography is gorgeous, but when you combine that with the lighting and the brilliant score by Ennio Morricone it combines to a succulent piece of art that everyone needs to experience. Malick hired Nestor Almendros for what I believed was his first Hollywood film; however, he made some 20 films previously so this wasn’t his first rodeo. Almendros’ and Malick’s decisions on several things help lead to the beauty of this film. The decision to film at the “golden hour”, which is the short time right before sun up and right before sun down, gives us several gorgeous shots, and gives Almendros and Malick several chances to implement the use of silhouettes, particularly the scene when Shepard catches Gere and Brooke Adams in an intimate moment on his gazebo in the field. Every shot like this is just breathtaking. They also use natural light which again only helps with not only the beauty of the film but the realness to it as well.
Morricone’s score might be some of his best work. It’s not his most iconic or remembered, but it’s how the score works with the imagery on screen that stands out. They’re almost enmeshed within each other; when I hear the theme that is played almost on repeat throughout the film all I can see is the plains of the Midwest, the mist on top a river in the morning, the rain clouds coming in over the hills. Now when I’m driving in the middle of Kansas or the panhandle of Texas with my wife that theme begins to creep in my mind. This is what a great score should be, it should be memorable and make you think of a time or place or even just the movie itself. The score envelopes you and makes you think of simpler times, much like in the way this story is told. It’s a reminiscent piece of music that will place you in an exact moment in time almost as if it is a time machine.
The dialogue is nearly minimal, mostly coming from Gere’s little sister Linda. None of the characters are fleshed out, instead they’re almost portraits of people. They’re given personalities but no more. It feels real, like recalling a time in your life, like a summer job or camp. You don’t remember much about the people you were around, but you remember little things or moments that stand out. Like the fiddle player at the hoedown at the end of the harvest, or the dancer she dances with while the other man plays a harmonica. It’s a brilliant style choice that makes the audience feel as if we’re talking to Linda, as if she’s telling us the story directly. It’s a way of storytelling that I really only think Terrence Malick would be able to pull off.
Days of Heaven is a masterwork; it’s one of the most beautiful films of all-time. It’s one of the films that everyone needs to see once in their life, it’s really more an experience rather than just a viewing. Also, I understand people that don’t like Malick, I really like most of his work, but I think this is probably his most accessible work maybe only behind Badlands. So even if you’re not a Malick fan you should still give this one a shot.
Days of Heaven (1978) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for every silhouette shot.
Take a Drink: for grasshoppers.
Do a Shot: every time Richard Gere is kind of a dick.
Drink a Beer: for every seasonal change.