Sunday, April 11, 2010

DAYS OF HEAVEN (Terrence Malick, 1978, USA)

Four lives meet in an elemental nexus, existing in a diaphanous world of serenity and temporary beauty. Writer/Director Terrance Malick’s divine creation follows the lives of three migrant workers who rise from the furnaces of a hellish nightmare to the epiphany of Elysian Fields and their eventual fall from grace. The devil is on the farm.

Malick’s photographic lyricism dominates the film in grand vistas of amber waves and endless skies, contrasting the tiniest insect or animal with the dominant species that holds an illusory dictatorship over nature, that all living things are dependant upon. The love triangle is elementary but Malick’s bold poeticism transforms the prosaic into the profound. Set just before The Great War, like the soft kiss of a warm breeze that soon burns, Bill and Abby flee Chicago from a murderous past into the great wide open. With Bill’s kid sister Linda in tow, they hop a train and join a transient community of seasonal workers, living job by job and day by day. They create the illusion that they are siblings to hide their affection from others, to cease the cirrus of gossip that often unravels such a tight knit coterie. They come to rest in an ocean of grain and work a summer harvest, tilling both the fields and their secret affair. But they soon devise a plan to inherit the wealthy farm by deceit: learning that the shy rancher is suffering from a fatal disease, Abby feigns love and marries him. Bill stays on as her “brother” until the darkening clouds of jealousy and revenge gather, like maddening locusts devouring the earth and sky.

Malick eschews dialogue and allows the film to breath and gently exhale, his beautiful compositions contrasting or reflecting the spiritual conflict. The characters represent the primal ingredients of nature: Bill is the fire of steel mills or burning fields that can create or destroy; Abby is the cool waters of love or the dark waters of deception; Linda is a little girl of the earth, her face a smear of dirt and grime, in which all things grow; and the nameless farmer is wind whose ubiquitous presence is always felt but never directly seen. Ennio Morricone’s score is the perfect conspiracy to the narrative and reflective of Malick’s ethereal intent. Linda becomes the passive voice of lost time, her stream-of-consciousness voice-over neither explaining nor enlightening the story but instead confounding, like a child speaking as a child in witnessing the confusing antics of adults.

These days of heaven are relegated to a painful memory. Linda and Abby follow the steel rail towards a destination unknown. Final Grade: (A)

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