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"Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you."
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A 1978 romantic drama by Terrence Malick, in what would be his last feature before a twenty-year absence from filmmaking.

Set in 1916, a steelworker named Billy (Richard Gere) kills a foreman out of anger. Fearing reprisals, he runs away with his sister Linda (Linda Manz) and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams). Pretending that Abby is his sister so as to avoid gossip, Billy and his crew hitch a train to the Texas panhandle, where they find work in the wheat fields of a rich but sick farmer (Sam Shepard). When the farmer falls in love with Abby, Billy convinces her to marry him, thinking that he will die within the year and they can inherit his money. Of course, things don't work out quite so well...


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This film contains the following tropes:

  • Accidental Murder: In the opening scene Billy hits a foreman at the factory, accidentally killing him.
  • Animal Motifs: The locusts symbolize a threat. The time when the swarm of locusts attacks the fields coincides with the moment when the farmer realizes that Billy is Abby's lover and decides to kill him.
  • The Beard: Inverted. Abby and Billy are lovers, but they pretend to be siblings.
  • Becoming the Mask: Abby pretends to be attracted to the farmer as part of a plan to inherit his fortune after his death, but then she falls in love with him.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: How Linda and another girl escape the apparently unpleasant boarding school where Abby deposited her, towards the end of the movie.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: A hallmark of Terrence Malick's career. Here there are loving closeups of stalks of wheat, crickets on stalks of wheat, frogs, shoots of wheat sprouting in time-lapse, etc.
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  • Crazy Jealous Guy: When the farmer understands that Billy was Abby's lover, he goes after him to kill him with a gun. This is somewhat justified by the fact that Billy and Abby lied to him from the start, but at the time he does it, Abby had ended her relationship with Billy.
  • Down on the Farm: Rural Texas can have adultery, betrayal, and murder just as well as big cities can.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used throughout the opening credits, as the camera pans and zooms over old-timey 1920s pictures.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the opening scene Billy hits a foreman at the factory, accidentally killing him. Billy is established as hot-headed and impulsive.
  • Everybody Smokes: Even Linda, Billy's younger sister.
  • Excuse Plot: Why do they pretend to be siblings? So we can have a movie.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Billy is framed this way when he's peering into Abby and the farmer's bedroom, before he sneaks in and lures Abby out.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: For lack of a better term. Linda's voiceovers both comment on what's happening storywise and veer off into philosophical rambles. Reportedly, Malick didn't script the narration. He showed Manz the film and had her speak (in character) into a microphone whatever came to mind as she watched it.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The narrator is Linda, the protagonist's sister. This is because Billy is dead at the end of the story.
  • Gold Digger: Abby marries the farmer only to inherit his money when he will die. Justified because she is really poor.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: See the page quote. Abby and Billy's deception is justified by the fact that they are very poor and this is their only hope for a better life. The farmer is depicted as a rather nice guy. His violent reaction is justified by Abby and Billy lied to him.
  • Historical Domain Character: The train of Woodrow Wilson passes nearby at some point.
  • Hunting "Accident": Billy considers killing the farmer during a hunting trip. Subverted because he does not dare to do it.
  • Improvised Weapon: Billy uses a screwdriver to kill the farmer.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Billy kills the farmer with a screwdriver, only because the latter threatened him with a gun.
  • Love Triangle: Abby falls in love with the farmer for real but can't shake Billy. Tragedy ensues.
  • Marriage Before Romance: Abby falls for the farmer after marrying him.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse:
    • Billy considers killing the farmer during a hunting trip. Subverted because he does not dare to do it.
    • In the end, the farmer goes after Billy with a gun to kill him, but Billy finally kills the farmer in self-defense with a screwdriver.
  • No Name Given: The farmer, the foreman... pretty much every character apart from the three leads, and even they aren't given last names.
  • Old Retainer: The farm foreman is devoted to his boss. At some point, he tells Billy that he considers his boss as his own son. Therefore, he is determined to find his murderer in the end.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Happens a few times, particularly with Brooke's Chicagoan accent.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Abby has two lovers: Billy, a poor worker, and the rich farmer. At first, Abby is in love with Billy, but she marries the farmer and then falls in love with him.
  • Romantic Fake–Real Turn: Abby pretends to be attracted to the farmer as part of a plan to inherit his fortune after his death, but then she falls in love with him.
  • Scenery Porn: Many arguments could be made that this is THE most beautiful film ever shot.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: The farmer vs. Billy.
  • Shout-Out: The family watched Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant on a home projector.
  • Steel Mill: The opening scene of the film takes place in a Chicago steel mill (and surrounding slums).
  • The Swarm: A swarm of locusts attacks the fields. This is the time when the farmer goes after Billy.
  • Whole Plot Reference: The main plot of Billy encouraging Abby to marry the farmer so they can get his money is taken from Henry James' The Wings of the Dove.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Abby cheats on her husband with her former lover, Billy. When she falls for her husband, she ends this affair.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Nothing's visibly wrong with the farmer, but a doctor tells him he has maybe a year to live.

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