In 1974, Terence Malick released his first movie : Badlands, the murderous drifting of two juvenile lovers in a deserted and rural America. A rare gem where, if we look back, we can see the seeds of the movies to come.
Four years later, Malick made Days of Heaven. The seeds had grown and sprouted, the harvest was splendid !
1911. Fleeing Chicago after a murder, Bill, Abby and her little sister end up in Texas where they work as farm-workers for a big landowner. This latter falls for Abby, whom he thinks is Bill's sister. They cheat him into marrying her, for profit. But in a love triangle, there's always one too many.
Love story ? Threesome ? Indeed but it's not what the movie is mostly about.
Many films (Giant, for instance) have set up a love story in the great plains. This time, we could almost say the pretext is the romance, a background, whereas the real topic and guideline is the countryside and its seasons.
Very few, if any, film director have filmed not only time but the weather itself and the rythm of nature. Malick is a pantheist. Time unfolds, seasons pass, the wheat grows and it's a splendor. He manages to render the changing of light thrilling. How many directors have filmed, really filmed the sky, the clouds ? For Malick, a coming storm is an event as well as an aesthetic emotion. A sunset, the wind, the heat become worth beholding ; The poet W.H. Auden once wrote : « Teach the free man to praise ». Malick meets this challenge and helps us really see nature as a fascinating, living creature.
A great mansion that the endless horizon outlines becomes the door to limitless possibilities.
We think to American painters, to Edward Hopper and his houses of great solitude, to Andrew Wyeth and the almost magical strangeness of rural dayly life, Christina's World in particular. A plague of grasshoppers is as beautiful as Turner's paintings. Ennio Morricone's music comes unexpectedly to enhance all these memorable pictures.
But, if Malick is a pantheist, he is also a christian and knows his bible by heart. The aforesaid plague of grasshoppers heralds a tragic end. The worm is in the fruit. Every garden of eden host the coming fall. In Malick's movies, man is always expelled from the beauty of the garden, but it's rather a matter of destiny than of fate.
Let's not spoil the end.
Let's just say that Malick's movie is not just a collection of nice pictures. It is lyrical, solar and elegiac.
If you let yourself drift, if you are not scared of the wind and the snow, great emotions await you.
Days of Heaven(1978)
- Terrence Malick
A hot-tempered farm laborer convinces the woman he loves to marry their rich but dying boss so that they can have a claim to his fortune.