Modern classics: Days of Heaven (1978)

Note: TMP’s “Modern Classics” series features reviews of films from the 1970s and later which are generally held in high regard. Most of these reviews, including today’s, are of “blindspot” films I’ve never seen due to my preference for pre-1965 flicks.

Bill (Richard Gere) is a Chicago laborer, working in a steel mill. After killing a man at the mill, he decides to skip town with his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and younger sister Linda (Linda Manz), Abby pretending to be another sibling to avoid gossip.

(Image via Movie Poster Shop)
(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

The three join a group of seasonal workers on the farm of a wealthy but ill landowner (Sam Shepard). The farmer falls in love with Abby, and Bill encourages her to go through with a marriage in hopes they’ll inherit the farmer’s riches.

Days of Heaven was directed by Terrence Malick. This film checks an item off of my “blindspots” list as it’s the first Terrence Malik film I’ve watched. (I haven’t even seen Badlands! When it comes to post-’65 films, I have a lot of blindspots.)

I was won over by Days of Heaven from its opening, which is full of old photographs. The cinematography throughout the whole film is beautiful, with sunset-lit shots of fields, reminiscent of a Thomas Cole painting. A lovely score adds to the film’s aesthetic and artistic appeal.

For a film so quiet in both its tone and its moderate level of dialogue, Days of Heaven is surprisingly engrossing. It moves along at a steady pace. I liked the fact that the story was pretty minimalistic and didn’t take very many melodramatic turns. This lends the film a feeling of authenticity.

Narration is provided by the youngest character of the central trio, Linda, portrayed by Linda Manz. This narration reminded me a bit of This Property is Condemned, though of course that film tells a more standard Hollywood narrative. At times, Days of Heaven‘s voiceover lends a haunting sense of melancholy and foreshadowing dread to the film:

“I met this guy named Ding-Dong. He told me the whole Earth is goin’ up in flames. Flames’ll come outta here ‘n’ there ‘n’ they’ll just rise up. The mountains are gonna go up in big flames, the water’s gonna rise in flames.”

(Image via
(Image via

I enjoyed Days of Heaven greatly — much more than I expected to. Though I know he’s a bit of a polarizing director, this film has me interested to seek out more of Terrence Malick’s work. The score: 4/5

5 thoughts on “Modern classics: Days of Heaven (1978)

  1. Two things: One is that Days of Heaven is one of the most beautifully shot films that I have ever seen; two is that you need to see Badlands.


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