DAYS OF HEAVEN is another film touted by many as brilliant, evidence of genius, a masterpiece, that I can’t seem to get. It’s not that I hate the thing -- it undeniably has its moments, and its style certainly has presence, but it is overbearing: this is the key factor that keeps superstar director Terrence Malick from true greatness (to my mind, at least). Despite its image’s beauty, DAYS OF HEAVEN has no hold, no hooks; it is unaffecting.
The film suffers from two major flaws: the overbearing style, which is a hollow shell concealing its core, or, I should say, lack of core. The story is boring, unoriginal, and there are no truly dramatic scenes. It is for this reason that I call DAYS OF HEAVEN unaffecting: it passes before you, its drama, gripless; the only thing present on-screen are spare images, underscored by an unexciting score that is completely out of character for Ennio Morricone.
I am reluctant to lambaste DAYS OF HEAVEN because it is a near-perfect realization of style, that collapses under its own weight. Under its veneer of mood and atmosphere and beautiful, symbolic imagery, there is an absence of meaning. Malick displays impressive skill, and its production is the result of a formidable confidence, but it is a hollow film, and I can not award it any points. Points are not awarded for insubstantiability; a film can not be supported purely by its form. Without content to fill it, it is an empty structure; the sword is, of course, double-edged: formless content is not engaging, either.
The second great flaw, as stated, is contained in Malick’s writing: it is almost pathetically weak. The narration is its strongest point, but there is no great challenge in writing the monologue of an ignorant character. Malick’s directs his actors quietly; they are restrained, kept away from any real dramatic expression. In combination with the script, in effect with the visual style, the actors are as handsome as the shots they occupy, but as bland and insubstantial as the rest of the film.
The story is dramatic, archetypically so, but uninspired. Love triangles have provided dramatic fuel for an uncountable number of films and plays: off the top of my head, Francois Truffaut’s JULES ET JIM (1962) and Eugene O’Neill’s play “Desire Under the Elms,” published in 1924. There is no question that this plot element was first thought up hundreds of years B.C.E., but then, so were they all. No-one is blaming anyone for recycling dramatic archetypes, because they are generally re-used with some sort fresh inspiration, some colouring of the story’s times. In the case of DAYS OF HEAVEN, despite its being a period piece, the general atmosphere is one of timeless fantasy. The plot of a love triangle used herein is absolutely uninspired: there are no original elements to make it a compelling plot. This is no big deal, as the film is resting mostly on its stylistic framework, but as I’ve already said, this framework is overwrought and collapses in upon itself.
So despite its many positive and impressive elements, if I used a rating system on this blog, I would be forced, only somewhat reluctantly, to award it no points!