A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Days of Heaven is an award-winning 1978 story of a love triangle in the early 1900s that turns violent. While not gratuitous, the scenes of violence include murder, fist fights, shootings, and stabbings. For younger viewers, the more heady explorations of Social Darwinist survival, nature (Mother and human), and symbolism manifested through the change of seasons will probably go over their heads, but for viewers eager for films with deeper meanings and rare beauty, Days of Heaven is an unforgettable experience.
What's the story?
Bill (Richard Gere) works in a steel mill in Chicago in 1910. He accidentally kills his boss during a fight, and flees with his sister Linda (Linda Manz) and his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) to a farm in the Texas panhandle. They work long and difficult hours on the farm and dream of better lives. Their chance to improve their lot in life comes in the form of The Farmer (Sam Shepard), a wealthy man who they learn is very ill and has less than a year to live. When The Farmer falls in love with Abby (who they've introduced as Bill's sister), Abby and Bill plot to let the marriage happen so they can inherit The Farmer's money when he dies. As time passes, The Farmer does not die. As he begins to learn that Bill and Abby are lovers and not the siblings they say they are, the inevitable conflict comes to a head.
Is it any good?
Days of Heaven is one of those films that should be seen more than once to appreciate the subtleties in how the story is conveyed. The story of the love triangle itself would have been enough to make this an enjoyable movie, but when matched with Malick's capacity to capture great meaning through visuals, it becomes a cinematic gem of American filmmaking.
Director Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line) thrusts a familiar love triangle story against an unforgettable backdrop of the difficulties of the American Dream in the early 20th Century. He wraps the story and the visuals in an exploration of human nature, ambition, survival, Social Darwinism, and the Industrial Revolution. The colors of the skies and the wheat fields, the noises of steel mills and locusts, and the inevitable confrontations between the characters in the film's climax all make this a must-see for movie lovers, especially fans of 1970's cinema.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about symbolism. Where do some of the images and scenes seem to represent something more than what meets the eye?
Why do you think Linda (the young girl) was the narrator in the film? How would the film have been different if it had been another character, or if there was no narrator at all?
Talk about Bill and Abby's decision to trick The Farmer. Would you have made a different choice in their position?
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