Controversy Aside- Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven is an Extraordinary Beauty

I saw Badlands by Terrnece Malick when I was in high school and at that time was greatly impressed with the performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. I had no idea at that time that I was viewing the work of one of the most talented and polarizing film-makers in American history.

Over the years other Malick films, The Thin Red Line and The New World carried on his cinematic love affair with nature as they showcased the difficulty that he has in reaching depths with characters while telling his story.

Christopher Plummer has this to say on his work with him in the film The New World: 

Malick has also polarized critics with Roger Ebert citing his film Days in Heaven as one of the 100 most important films of all time.

Pauline Kael referred to the film, Days of Heaven as, “an empty Christmas tree: you can hang all your dumb metaphors on it.”

I had the chance to see Days of Heaven and was amazed that a film made in 1978, with a fresh faced Richard Gere and virile Sam Shepard felt fresh and vital and real. It’s no surprise that critics at the time were over-whelmed with the massive visual stimulus, anchored on a reproduction of an Edward Hopper painting, (House by the Railroad), Malick’s style was way ahead of it’s time. He continues sculpting the central themes that resonate throughout his career; romanticism, epic landscapes, living with nature and rapturous passion. 

Terrence Malick‘s 1978 movie Days of Heaven was never a huge hit, but it was such a departure and so deliberate an attempt to have the audience stirred by beauty that it felt calming and inspiring. Without shame or caution it was trying to address the pre-modern era of American history, the natural conflict between landowners and newcomers. But it was just as interested in the vanity of men and women trying to tame and organise the wild parts of the country. Beyond that, was this perhaps the most beautiful picture ever made?” –David Thomson

In the film, a roving laborer, his girlfriend and his sister find themselves at a Texas ranch. The owner falls in love with the laborer’s girlfriend and a vicious love triangle emerges and merges with changes in the land and weather. With a score by Ennio Morricone and an Oscar win for cinematographer Nestor Almendros, the film is a multi-sensational pleasure.

The Criterion Collection released a deluxe version of the film in 2007, including a booklet, a making of documentary and other special features. The film is also currently available for viewing on Netflix. 

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