Clare's Criterion Collection

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Review # 23 – Days of Heaven

DoH

Spine #409

Available on Blu-ray & DVD

DIRECTORAPPROVED SPECIAL EDITION

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Terrence Malick, editor Billy Weber, and camera operator John Bailey
  • New Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, with DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary featuring Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris, and casting director Dianne Crittenden
  • New audio interview with actor Richard Gere
  • Video interviews with Bailey, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, and actor Sam Shepard
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Adrian Martin and a chapter from director of photography Nestor Almendros’s autobiographyNew cover by Lucien S. Y. Yang

This was my 2nd Terrence Malick (Double Cannes winner) film and as with the first, The Thin Red Line, this did not disappoint.

Manual labourers endure a hard life in this film; the constant harsh conditions of a smelting mine to the seemingly never-ending fields at harvest time. They live in poverty whilst those for whom they toil have the prosperity that brings nice clothes, houses and cars. Despite all this the good folk of the fields find the time to enjoy themselves. There are many moments in the film where we have people playing in the fields and river along with evenings of music and dance. Within the confines of the farm you could almost say there is one huge extended family.

After an accidental death, Bill is on the run with his girlfriend Abby and kid Sister Linda. Their train takes them to the ripe wheat fields of the Texas Panhandle (The Texas Panhandle is a region of the U.S. state of Texas consisting of the northernmost twenty-six counties in the state. The panhandle is a rectangular area bordered by New Mexico to the west and Oklahoma to the north and east.) but before the machines are fired up to bring home the harvest a Priest is brought in to say a prayer over the land (I’ll come back to this later) to bring good fortune and safety to those at work.

Now in order to conceal his identity Bill and Abby try to pass as Brother and Sister. Due to this the farm owner takes a shine to Abby and asks her to stay on after the harvest is complete. She is encouraged to take up the offer after Bill overhears a conversation between the owner and his Doctor.

Now, what would you do if you were in Abby’s shoes? You have a chance to live a life beyond your dreams. To live in a big fancy house, wear the nicest clothes, to get out of the fields and the endless hours picking up bales of hay. Would you take that, even if it would mean living a lie? The decision pulls everyone apart and sets off a chain of events that will leave two people dead.

I earlier mentioned the Priest and the connection I want to refer to now is Biblical. Moses served up a large plate of locust upon Egypt and someone sent quite a decent delivery order of the little pesky grasshoppers to Texas. They say that plagues are divine judgments, a series of curses and whilst he himself was not directly targeted I felt that Bill was the cause (if you take the Biblical viewpoint). The night descends into chaos and is the start of the end for everyone.

Another constant that played through my mind, and again I touched on above is the relationships of the workers. During the film, bar one instance, they all sit together and enjoy each other’s company. Did the relationships last between the people, did they stay together and continue on to the next place in need of workers? After the first group of workers moved on another train arrives bringing a new batch, how long had they been together? How did they get to this point, what is their story?

My final thought regarding this film is that no matter how advanced Man thinks he is; he is nothing when faced with the power of Nature. The land on which we grow food can be taken in a moment by Nature. The wind fans the flames, the water washes away anything in its path and without the sun rising each day there would be nothing.

And finally, a few interesting facts for you about the film:

The film was shot in Alberta, Canada not Texas

Cinematographer Nestor Almendros was replaced in the final days of filming by Haskell Wexler (Medium Cool) due to a previous job commitment with another Criterion Director, François Truffaut. The film was The Man Who Loved Women.

First major film of Hollywood Heartthrob Richard Gere

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