I have been watching a copious number of films for well over a decade, which makes the fact that this is my first Terrence Malick film all the more surprising. Granted, he took a 20-year hiatus between this film and The Thin Red Line, but he is one of those directors that anyone who loves film should have encountered. Good thing I managed to fit this in before I turned 30.
Given how respected he is, the first watching of any Terence Malick was always going to suffer from the weight of expectation. So, was it worth the wait and was Days of Heaven the film to make me into a fan? Well, the answer to that is a lot more nuanced than I would have expected. For, whilst I wouldn’t say that this will end up in my top films of all time list, I cannot deny that I am thankful for the experience (and no I am not just referring to the sex pot that was 1970s Richard Gere).
The storyline (whereby temporary farm workers conspire to array the rich land owner to eventually end up with his fortune once he dies) never really goes beyond the original sketch plan. However, that doesn’t really feel much of the point with this film. Instead you have arguably one of the best shot films or have been nominated for an Oscar – to the point where you could blow up most of the frames (apart from the locusts) and turn them into some pretty stunning wall art. Little wonder, therefore, that this walked away with awards for the cinematography.
It also has a beautiful soundtrack that makes great use of the ‘Aquarium’ piece of Camille Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals as well as original music by Ennio Morricone. The whole thing plays like Malick’s own wistful daydream of a time gone by, and that’s such a hard thing to pull of well. Thing is, I missed there being some decent character development here and, instead, it felt like watching a beautiful puppet show rather than a cinematic masterpiece. Make of that what you will.