Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick’s 1978 story of adultery on the Texas Panhandle is set just before World War 1, but it resounds with echoes of Old Testament drama. Blast-furnace worker Bill (Richard Gere) gets in a fight with his foreman, then goes on the run with his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and little sister Linda.
They settle as field workers for a rich farmer (Sam Shepard), who eventually falls for the irresistibly beautiful Abby. Bill sees this as an opportunity to get rich not-so-quick. And his plot is the first step toward violence, which blazes up in a conflagration that may be the greatest inferno ever filmed.
Captured indelibly by cinematographers Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler, Malick’s film has a visual syntax so eloquent and graceful—its fields of gold cause its quiet characters to stand out like mythic figures—it would play powerfully as a silent film. (Shots of a hand extended to brush across the wheat fields have inspired numerous imitators, including Gladiator’s Ridley Scott.)
But the poetic narration by young Linda is endearing, and it keeps the goings-on from becoming too ponderous. After making this meditative masterpiece, Malick abandoned filmmaking for thirty years, only to return with greater ambition, and similarly spellbinding cinema.