Days of Heaven

Days of Heaven ★★★★★

"The sun looks ghostly when there's a mist on a river and everything's quiet. I never knowed it before. And you could see people on the shore, but they was far off and you couldn't see what they were doing. They were probably calling for help or something, or they were trying to bury somebody or something."

Apologies if I go a bit long on this one, since I figure that my first Terrence Malick movie (!!!) deserves a bit of elaboration. After years of living in fear of languid editing and omnipresent voiceover, I finally bit the bullet and watched this, and the results were... not what I expected, to be honest. "Playful" isn't exactly the phrase you'd usually expect to hear in association with Malick's work, but nearly every meaning of the word is applicable here, especially when it comes to the impressionistic sound design and editing. "Funny" is another good word, too (name me another art-house director who would stop the movie dead in its tracks for a brief tap-dance routine before following that up with a very serious and emotional conversation that just so happens to have a bunch of bored farmhands tossing hammers into a wheat field in the background).

Still, Malick's artsier nature is more than present here, although it's less pretentious and more portentious... or, to be accurate, more Gothic. American Gothic, to be precise - Malick removes the (literal) ghosts from the equation, but the outsized emotion, fascination with moral ambiguity, and feelings of impending apocalypse are still the same. It's reassuring, though, that Malick doesn't subtract the feminine aspects of Gothic fiction, but instead places them at the core of the film. When Bill complains about how men in the field ogle Abby (while he prepares to sell her autonomy to keep himself safe, no less), the focus isn't on him. It's on Abby, face in the center of the frame, staring out into the middle distance as Bill's cigarette smoke drifts across the image, his power absent and omnipresent at the same time. By the end of the story, women are the only survivors, left on their own with the hopes that "things would work out". The kids are all right.

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