The Movie that Changed the Man

Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)

As a human being, a person, living and breathing, we can contemplate our place in the world multiple times, but come to a realization of this thing we call life only once. It doesn’t happen for a long time for most people, and even when a lot of us think we have it figured out, we discover something new and brilliant. In the filmmakers’ world, coming to an epiphany usually happens on set, or after a particular film is released, and for the most part, it usually leads to another film. Filmmakers contemplating stories and worlds beyond what they themselves can comprehend leads to pieces that lie in production for years, maybe even decades. Terrence Malick of course, is a fascinating case and Days of Heaven is undoubtedly the film which sparked the master we know today.

Malick went on a 20 year hiatus after making Days of Heaven and during that hiatus he had ideas swirling in his head about various subjects (the most speculated was an idea he had called “Q”, which eventually lead to his magnum opus The Tree of Life some 2 and a half decades later). Watching Days of Heaven is like taking a time machine in Malick’s cinema and looking exactly at what Malick would create in the 1970’s. This has always been a personal fascination of mine… I’ve always wondered what kind of film Chris Nolan or Peter Jackson would make had they been living in the 60’s… how would they compensate for the lack of technology? Malick’s case is a beautifully unique one because he made a 70’s movie and then left filmmaking for 2 decade before making his 3rd film.

The reason Days of Heaven is so pinnacle in this is because it’s the first movie which extensively used Malick’s two greatest assets of filmmaking: voice-overs and powerpoint presentation style cinematography. While Badlands was Malick using what he learned and was inspired by on film, Days of Heaven was a Malick ready to make his own mark on the cinema world. Much of the style that we know from Malick today was actually spawned through production budget shortages. Days of Heaven started with a lot of dialogue and a swirling story, but because of the time and money restrictions Malick was forced to chop half the film away. Not being satisfied with a 40 minute film, he added close to an hour of nature shots with the backdrop of a girls voice providing introspective narration. Thus, the Malickian style of cinema was born. In the regards to the film itself, Days of Heaven doesn’t have much of a story and what it does have in narrative structure is your used and abused typical love-triangle gone wrong, mixed in a little bit with the same rebel on the run bit that built the foundation of Badlands.

What Days of Heaven provides that makes it so engrossing is the ideas behind it’s narrative. The voice-over narration which expressed the details of life, love and a brilliant observation of human relationships that make Terrence Malick’s cinema more than just a film on a screen are what is meant to be listened to, and the fact that it happened accidentally is no reason to put less importance on it. Accidents are many a times a blessing in disguise and for Malick, they became a life-changing and career-changing gift from above.

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