It's a shame that I haven't seen any Terrence Malick films until the past few months. Just a few months back I saw Badlands for the first time and though I didn't so much care for the story itself, I found myself likeing the way it was presented and definitely enjoyed the direction. Days of Heaven was Malick's second film and in my opinion a wholly more enjoyable film than Badlands.
The story is simple enough. Early 1900's America. It's a love triangle that goes horribly wrong. Bill (played by Richard Gere) needs to leave Chiacgo after assaulting his foreman in a mill. He and his little sister and his lover leave and find work on a farm. Bill and his much younger sister refer to Bill's lover as his sister, because as teh narration tells us it's easier that way since people talk. The farmer develops a love for Bill's lover/sister Abby and Bill, knowing that the farmer will soon die, convinces Abby to marry him in hopes that they will inherit his money. Simple story, and obvioulsy, anything like that is bound to end tragically, and 93 minutes later it does.
But, somehow this film became much bigger tha the sum of its parts. First may be Malick's direction. Scenes never seemed to last longer than 2 minutes or so and semlessly disolved into the next. Most of these scenes were set against a wide expanse of the plains and were just soaked with beauty. Then, there was the narration. The naration was done by Bill's younger sister, seemingly years after the fact and seemingly far removed from the events. In the narration she doesn't even seem to fully gather the wieght of the evnts weare seeing, or maybe it is her distance from the events. In any case, it provides an odd and stark contrast to the story we are seeing on screen. The end result for em after 90 minutes was a thought that I had seen something far greater than the sum of it's parts. After only 90 minutes I felt as if I had seen a far longer, far more epic story.
There was a discussion started at Criterionforum on the film just last week where someone started off by mentioning the characters as detestable. Perhaps it's just my state of mind but, I found them far from detestable. I did not condone the actions of Bill, and if I really loved someone, I would not let them go for thoughts of future riches, but I understood the motivation. It's a risky proposition to be sure, but it's not one I saw as entirely selfish. Also in that discussion at Criterion Forum was a link to a very good piece on the film, which goes into great detail on the social and political norms at the time the film was set. In the end, even though I have only seen two of his films now, this film is enough to catapult Malick iup to a list of favorite directors for me.