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Days of Heaven



Throughout Terrance Malik’s 1978 drama, “Days of Heaven”, nature and the deliberate use of sound and scenery evoke an image of heaven in the complicated era of early WWI America. Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Linda Manz portray almost nameless characters finding and confronting some of the trials and tribulations of life amidst beauty. Although “Days of Heaven” was set in 1918, its poignant observations to the beauty of life on earth leave the film timeless.

From the earliest frames of the film, Malik transports the viewer to pre modern era American in a steel mill of Chicago. Immersed in sound and beautiful imagery, you can feel the conditions of the characters. When Bill murders his boss, you feel the immense heat and urgency  of the steel mill. Urgency to escape to the natural beauty of the vast midwestern ranch they soon will call home. The cinematography of “Days of Heaven” not only depicts the picturesque rolling hills of wheat in the Oklahoma panhandle, but also the emotions and intensity of the characters. When Abby is tossing the bales of  hay, you experience the grueling labor of being poor in America. Yet still, among these conditions they find moments of peace and serenity. Heaven is often portrayed as forever but The title, “Days of Heaven” indicates some sort of expiration. For Linda, these days of heaven on the ranch are fleeting and temporary.

Linda, one of the three central characters of the film, is also the films narrator. Her gritty newsboy accent ends and opens the film. While she is not apart of the central love triangle, she is a constant presence through the story. We see the film through her eyes. The impact of a mature movie narrated through the eyes of a child allows for an innocent and honest depth of nostalgia. Reminiscent of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Dickens’ Pip, Linda’s narration provides for an outside perspective of a child swept along into complex grownup issues. She has a mature yet docile perspective on issues far more complicated for even the adults in the film to grapple with. Following Will’s death, Abby brings Linda to a dance studio while she rides off in a train with WWI soldiers. Early in the film she claims she could have been a dancer so with Will gone, she rationalizes what is best for Abby. We don’t know how Linda and Will lose their parents. We don’t know if they’re really brother and sister. We don’t know why Will let Abby marry her unnamed meal ticket. What we do know is that even though Linda was a background observer to many of the central issues of the film, she is the character that will cope with the consequences of Heaven. When she climbs out the window of the dance studio, you can’t help but wonder what will become of a child who has already experienced the joys and loss of heaven. Linda closes the film with a hopeful nod to her friend from her days on the ranch, “This girl, she didn’t know where she was goin’ or what she was gonna do. She didn’t have no money on her. Maybe she’d meet up with a character. I was hoping things would work out for her.” While Linda is referring to her friend, the viewer can’t help but hear Linda talking about herself and her uncertain future. We also can’t help but hope things work out for her too.

Through breathtaking imagery in the background of nature, Malik represents some of the joys and hardships of life. His decorated shots of rural America, set the scene for discovering beauty amidst hardships. His depiction of some of the simple elements of life are understated and real, through the eyes of a naive narrator wise beyond her years.

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