Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz
The power the emotion of love carries in our lives knows no bounds, which gets stretched and utilized for personal gain in the gut-wrenching but impeccably gorgeous Days of Heaven. Deceit can only take these characters so far before they realize where their love resides and how it makes them feel.
Struggling to attain work in 1916, Bill (Richard Gere) takes his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and his little sister Linda (Linda Manz) to work as seasonal farmworkers for a rich farmer. As they establish themselves at this farm, they learn of the wealthy farmer’s affections for Abby, which Bill uses to their advantage as he suggests she marries the affluent man when they learn about the terminal illness he has.
Bending the will of love becomes a focal point of this spellbinding story as the different relationships formulated inform all of the decisions made between the characters. Bill appears to have an affectionate love for Abby but he’s willing to essentially loan her out as an object to advance their monetary circumstance. This proposition is one Abby takes on because of their financial strife, just like many who worked as seasonal workers on this farm. It demonstrates where the priority lies with Abby and Bill where their love may be strong but it does not provide them financial security or nutritional nourishment. Love then becomes a bargaining chip for their survival, but business cannot always dictate how people will feel, which we see as things begin to get complicated.
The landscape for all the relational strife is the gorgeous farmland in Texas. It creates a vacuum-like environment for all of this to play out in one place and the cinematography beautifully puts it on display. Not to sound overzealous but this may be the best cinematography I have ever seen in a film in the way the farmland becomes its own character in the story and how the characters get lost in the sea of wheat. Certain moments displaying the sunset and the scene with the locusts and fire demonstrate the awe-inspiring beauty at hand with the fantastical look we get into this place. The beauty lands with the area because the interpersonal relationships get incredibly messy.
As a director, Terrence Malick works in his own way and could care less what others think about it, and he puts together one of his finest features in Days of Heaven. His typical meditative style gets perfectly utilized here as we get to experience their thought process throughout. He allows us to sit with the environment he has created and take in the beauty of the world and the unfortunate nature of this circumstance. Through this work, he gets the best out of Richard Gere, who I typically find to not work in the roles he’s cast in, but his style of acting works perfectly well for the character of Bill. A bit of arrogance mixed in with desperation sets up giving audiences mixed feelings about whether or not to support his decisions.
Biblically, this film obviously carries its influences close to the heart, especially with the events that occur on this farmland. With the isolated nature of the surroundings, it provides a perfect nesting ground to show how God feels about what occurs in these relationships. The evolution of the farmland displays this, at least in the way I interpreted it. The bastardizations occurring seemingly fit what occurs in the latter part of the film, as things begin to truly escalate. No longer does this farmland present the opportunity for growth not only in nourishment and financial security, but it later signifies a place of malcontent and pain felt by all of the characters. Malick has never feared infusing his faith into his stories and it works out in an effective manner once again with what he puts together in this fabulous film.
As majestic as one could want, Days of Heaven shows Terrence Malick delivering his typically gorgeous style of filmmaking. The emotional stakes reach the same level as the physical ones as none of these characters except for the Farmer know exactly when their next meal will arrive. The balance of the intra and interpersonal relationships dictates where the story goes and the decisions of the characters. Arrogance, selfishness, lust, affection, and envy all play a role in showing how people can fall into the wrong path in life and these characters learn a hard lesson in what it means to manipulate others for selfish reasons.