Days of Heaven (1978) – S3 The Arrival

This scene opens to one of the more complicated shots of the film. The first few seconds is still on the caravan rolling by until the camera gradually pans left to right until the archway is in the left of the frame. Then the camera every so subtlety rises. You probably won’t even notice it unless you are looking for it. That gradual rise at the end gives the shot a feeling of lightness and suggests entrance into an ethereal world. The shot at the end will be repeated later on, closing out this act of the film. Also, notice the distant house off to the right, the farm that the caravan is traveling towards.

This is the house of the owner. The first thing to note is the whipping of the windmill on the roof, the on distinctive sound of this shot. This sound is foreshadowing one of the more dramatic scenes of the film. Also, on the left you can see the Texas flag. Beneath it is a nice new car, a status symbol for the rich. But the most noticeable item in the frame is the man leaning on the post.

Off camera as of the moment of the shot are the cars which will roll up in a moment. However, this frame of greater interest because of several elements of foreshadowing. The first is the structure itself which will be the location of many key moments. Also of note are the fowl which will become of interest later. It’s also interesting that while this building is of the same style as the main house, it is a simpler design and the colors are reverse, contrasting the two buildings.

And here’s the man who was leaning on the pillar, the Farmer (Sam Shepard). Notice that unlike the other men in power, he is not wearing a hat. Notice that he also has the sleeves of his shirt rolled up like he’s about to go to work. We never see him do any work in the film, but in this shot he is trying to associate himself with the working class. However, he’s betrayed by this association with the nice tie he’s wearing.

The trio arrives on the farm with a house looming in the background. The foreman informs them that they are not allowed there after the girl dead center in the frame asks. She is not a particularly important character but one that Linda will have several conversations with her.

This simple shot of Bill, Abby and Linda expresses where they are at this moment. Abby is first and foremost interested in taking care of Linda as she’s guiding her and leaning in toward her. Bill is a bit more distant, caught up in his own thoughts at the moment.

Bill wanders out into the field to have a moment alone. Here he is caught up in what looks like a sea of wheat. Once again, nature dwarfs man. The movement of the wheat and the flow suggests that man is caught up helplessly by the force of nature that surrounds him.

It’s also worth noting the magnificence cinematography by Nestor Almendros. It won an Oscar if you care about that kind of thing. Most of the film was shot during what is called magic hour, which is the time when the sun has set but there is still light. The result is beautiful and magical, creating a dreamlike quality to the images.

Bill is happy. Here the world seems at peace and his troubles are far away. He’s partaking in nature with the stalk of wheat in his mouth and enjoying the scenery.

There’s some chill buffalo enjoying some wheat.

And a bird flying. Also notice the distant mountains and the magnificent skyline. No, they have no narrative or ideological importance, they just look beautiful. While it might seem like these last two shots don’t have any importance (because they don’t), they gives us a glimpse into what Bill is experiencing at this moment. The two shots also set up a slow and idyllic pace where the film will reflect upon the beauty of the natural world.

This is the formal introduction of Linda’s Friend, also known as Linda’s Friend. Notice that the wheat still has just a tinge of green to it, hinting that it’s not quite time to harvest. The two have a short conversation. Linda asks her about her cigarette she’s stuffed behind her ear, which as natural and incidental as it seems, comes up again later in the film.

Linda also asks if she has any siblings, which she doesn’t, and Linda says she has a brother. She doesn’t say she has a sister, a hint at the ruse to those around her who might be paying attention. When Linda’s Friend asks her where her brother is Linda flippantly replies “I don’t know, over there.” This sets up the fact that Linda’s relationship to her brother is rather distant.

The two of them try to catch a grasshopper together. It’s a lone creature, but it foreshadows one of the iconic scenes of the movie.

The next couple of shots are of some of the workers relaxing after the trip. Wordlessly, the film displays the American melding pot with different ethnicities represented among the working class. Pictured here are a man from the orient and two men speaking a European language (I want to say German but I could be mistaken).

Bill, Linda and Abby play tag in the field. Yet another quaint, understated scene but before the film ends they will once again be playing in the field but in a different context. Here they play a simple game that requires nothing but open space to play.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing