Days of Heaven (1978)

Directed by Terrence Malick

In 1916, a Chicago steel worker accidentally kills his supervisor and flees to the Texas panhandle with his girlfriend and little sister to work harvesting wheat in the fields of a stoic farmer.

That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.

— Deuteronomy 11:21


[A] shotgun marriage of a Hollywood epic with an avant-garde poem. […] Above all, the radical strangeness and newness of Days of Heaven was signaled […] by its most fragmented, inconclusive, “decentered” feature: the voice-over narration of young Linda Manz as Linda […]. In this voice we hear language itself in the process of struggling toward sense, meaning, insight—just as, elsewhere, we see the diverse elements of nature swirling together to perpetually make and unmake what we think of as a landscape, and human figures finding and losing themselves, over and over, as they desperately try to cement their individual identities or “characters.” [Elsewhere,] it is hardly surprising to learn that Shepard['s 'Farmer'] (who is a superbly haunting presence in the film) thought himself to be playing someone who was less a flesh-and-blood, three-dimensional psychological character than a kind of sketch, silhouette, or ghost.

Adrian Martin (Criterion)


When playwright and actor Sam Shepard passed away last July at the age of seventy-three, his dear friend Patti Smith wrote a heart-wrenching remembrance of him for the New Yorker. In it, she mentioned a pair of tattoos they got in the seventies: a lightning bolt on her knee, and a crescent moon resting between his thumb and forefinger. A few days after his passing, I found myself revisiting Terrence Malick’s 1978 masterpiece Days of Heaven. About a quarter of the way, my breath was taken by a moment in which Shepard’s character—an ailing, wealthy man simply referred to as “the farmer”—sits on a log in the woods with his soon-to-be wife, Abbey (Brooke Adams). He tells her he loves her, places his hand on hers, and there it is, thin as a wisp and gone in an instant, that sly crescent moon.

Hillary Weston (Criterion)


Every time I think of this film I get chills. Watching Claire Denis' Chocolat (1988) recently, I couldn't help but think of Linda from Days of Heaven who, like Chocolat's France, she is capable of recounting events and anecdotes as if she had witnessed them from a remove, and been forced to imaginatively make up those portions from which she was denied firsthand access.