The most tragic part about director Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) is that there is no clear antagonist, no villainous figure to blame for the crushed hopes and broken hearts. Each character of the unstable love triangle at the film’s core is portrayed with conviction and emotional depth — three dimensional individuals that have questionable motives but are at the same time sympathetic and likeable. The plot is incredibly simple: a hot-headed farm worker convinces the love of his life to marry their dying boss so they can inherit his fortune. The plot’s been done hundreds of times before, but Malick keeps it fresh with briliant direction, mesmerizing visuals, and a haunting score.
The cinematography is breathtaking, with sweeping shots of crops flowing in the wind and a hazy fire that covers the entire camera with smoke and contrast. In one particular sequence, huge swarms of locusts rise up from the crops, giving that scene a nightmarish yet beautiful quality. Malick incorporates a lot of metaphorical imagery and symbolism, giving the entire film a dreamlike atmosphere.
Although Days of Heaven is a very emotional film, there is little focus on melodrama or dialogue. The movie is narrated by the farm worker’s preadolescent sister, and her commentary reflects the tone of the movie: an observator’s take on a shattered romance and broken dreams. For a film that runs for an hour and a half, Days moves at a very comfortable pace, allowing viewers to gradually absorb the beauty and emotional impact. This is a story of The American Dream, and its tragic aftermath.
The Motion Picture Club gives Days of Heaven a 9.5/10.