Days of Heaven, by Terrence Malick

My piece on Terrence Malick’s 1978 film Days of Heaven has been published over at Static Mass Emporium:

dvd_days

Terrence Malick holds a unique place in my personal canon of film directors, partly because I discovered his films at a watershed moment when a passing interest in cinema was turning into something more consuming. His films fuse a European formalism and philosophical seriousness with a classically American pastoral aesthetic and sense of nostalgia. They hover somewhere around the boundary between the popular and the recondite, giving them the character of a strange cultural hybrid.

Malick’s debut feature, Badlands, is superficially a classic American crime film concerning a young runaway couple, borrowing from Bonnie And Clyde and the long prehistory of road trip narratives that forms a central current in the American cultural imagination, from Twain to Kerouac, The Wizard Of Oz to Easy Rider. Yet this traditional material is refashioned by the modernist narrative device of the unreliable narrator. This casts an uncertain light on its nostalgic aesthetic and throws the focus narcissistically back onto the film’s form as the key to its meaning.

Though Malick has never completely shed his connections with classically American cinematic tropes, his films have become progressively more abstract and formally adventurous. His later films are ponderously paced and heavily aestheticized visual poems, seemingly influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky. Meditations on time, memory and spirituality, they are also investigations of the relationship between form and content.

Days Of Heaven sits at the intersection of early and late Malick, retaining some of the cohesion of Badlands while pointing the way to the more ruminative style ofThe Thin Red LineThe New World and The Tree of Life.

Read the full piece here

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  1. I was interested to read this review as it is a completely different interpretation to my own!

    I agree about the unreliable narrator, but I’m not so sure how unreliable she is….

    I think her worldview is coherent but reflects the limited understanding of the two central characters – they are lost in a world they do not understand. Linda’s voiceover more a commentary on events rather than a completely self-contained perspective – we don’t see the film through her eyes (as you yourself note there are scenes she could not possibly have witnessed). Instead we are meant to be influenced by her words, which suggest an innocence about them, which I think they have.

    If you are interested in my more considered views, which imply that a fairly clear meaning can be extracted from the film, they can be found here:

    http://serenityscience.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/accidental-life.html

    All the best.

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