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Film / Days of Heaven

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"Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you."

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...


This film contains the following tropes:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Excuse Plot: Why do they pretend to be siblings? So we can have a movie.
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  • 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.
  • Love Triangle: Abby falls in love with the farmer for real but can't shake Billy. Tragedy ensues.
  • No Name Given: The farmer, the foreman...pretty much every character apart from the three leads, and even they aren't given last names.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Happens a few times, particularly with Brooke's Chicagoan accent.
  • 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).
  • 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 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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