Despite having watched most of Terrence Malick’s films more than once, I recently decided to address the glaring gap that was Days of Heaven. It’s certainly a strange experience, coming to a director’s most lauded and well-known work nearly last. Days of Heaven falls neatly into the chronology of Malick’s work. Seen through the same naïve eyes as Badlands yet addressing emotions as huge and complex as those in To the Wonder.
Malick’s narrative is sparse and allusional. While characters are going through emotional upheaval this rarely manifests itself in speech. The true emotional high points of the film are those where no one speaks at all and everything is simply implied from the actions and faces of the cast. It takes an accomplished ensemble to pull off a film like Days of Heaven. A poor actor fears silence, but Malick demands that silence reign in the on-screen relationships. Even our narrator, the young Linda (Linda Manz), is detached. The thrust of the story is not about her, she just happens to be the voice we hear telling it. This distance allows the audience to process the emotional story in their own time. Rather than wallowing in sadness Days of Heaven takes a deeply upsetting story of love loss and betrayal but chooses to render it as a series of unalterable events, as meaningless as any other. What comes through as a result is the resilience of the human spirit. The spirit of the young girl which, at the end of the film, somehow remains unbroken and capable of optimism, despite the awful series of events she has lived through.
Malick is famous for filming in the ‘golden hour’ to attain the look he prefers. While this may sound as unnecessary as celebrities who refuse to bathe in anything but mineral water, this move does actually pay off. The quality of colour which Malick captures throughout the film is ethereal and other-wordly. Quite apart from the symbolic power of the light – making the film feel disconnected from the present, without the cheap tricks of desaturation and grainy film stock -it is simply beautiful to watch. The sky, the wheat, the whole countryside that Malick portrays seems richer and more beautiful than any real grain field. The cinematography is bold and extraordinary for it’s time. Malick used almost entirely natural light to achieve the authentic visuals, shocking hollywood and his production team. There is a tension between artistry and immediacy that makes the film haunting and beautiful at the same time.
Days of Heaven truly is a tour de force, the themes and feelings echo throughout Malick’s work, but Days of Heaven is perhaps the point where artistry and accessibility met most perfectly.
- Entertainment: 5/5
- Artistic: 5/5
- Intellectual: 4/5