After he accidentally kills his boss at a Chicago steel mill, Bill (Richard Gere in his best performance) hops a train with his sister Linda (Linda Manz), who narrates, and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), who he claims as his other sister to avoid gossip. Together, they take jobs in the wheat fields of the Texas Panhandle under a young farmer (Sam Shepard), with a hint of Gatsby, whose house, a castle to the workers, overlooks the fields like an enigma. Discovering The Farmer has one year to live due to an unknown illness, Bill asks Abby to marry the lonely millionaire so that, in a year’s time, the money will be theirs.
The central theme of Days of Heaven is explicated in Linda’s literary narration: “See, the people that’ve been good, they’re gonna go to heaven and escape all that fire…But if you’ve been bad, God don’t even hear you talkin’.”
And indeed there is a vehement fire, and dialogue--Bill’s early on, The Farmer’s in the last act--is sometimes subdued or muted. Linda, then, as narrator, is the most innocent of the bunch, though the quality is aided by her age and naivety.
The film unfolds under a score by Ennio Morricone (punctuated to stellar effect by excerpts from Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals) and within one of the finest and most attentive examples of color cinematography in film history, with lens work by Academy Award winner Nestor Almendros and the uncredited Haskell Wexler, who claims to have shot at least half of the finished film.
Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven is, at once, one of the few American films one could call “poetic” and “lyrical” without ringing pretentious, and one of the most brilliantly conceived pieces of cinema ever projected to the world.
Interviews (Actors): In the first, Richard Gere (21:52) discusses the ideas and vision of Days of Heaven, as well as working with Malick and the cast. The interview is audio only and set to clips of the film, making it an alternate commentary to the above; in the second, a video interview recorded with Sam Shepard (12:32) in 2002, the actor shares his thoughts on Malick and his marked characteristics and style.
Interviews (Camera): In the first of these tech-based interviews, John Bailey (20:26) talks about his duties as camera operator and how the film’s style went “against the grain of the classical American style”; the second has Haskell Wexler (11:34), who replaced cinematographer Nestor Almendros after he left production, discussing his much-discussed involvement, the lighting in the northern latitude, and working with Malick.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 40-page booklet with an essay titled “On Earth as It Is in Heaven” by critic Adrian Martin and “Shooting Days of Heaven” by cinematographer Nestor Almendros, excerpted from his 1984 autobiography A Man with a Camera.