Days of Heaven (1978) – S5 Dinner Time

As the day comes to a close and magic hour appears (Malick’s favorite time of the day), the workers return, clumped together with no real order, dirty dark and dusty.

In contrast, The Farmer is well dressed in a nice vest, sitting in a nice chair with detailed carving and a cushion. A glass of wine is in his hand. He looks a bit off-put by the workers that pass him, perhaps repulsed by their stench or perhaps he simply dislikes their proximity to him. These two shots display the economic divide between The Farmer and his workers. At the last moment, he appears to be glancing at something off screen.

That something, or rather someone, is Abby waking through the field, the wind catching her hair. Soft, slow music plays, giving the scene a bit more of a romantic feel. It’s clear he has been smitten by her, even though he’s barely got a good look at her. Also notice how Abby appears isolated from the rest of the group.

As Linda narrates about this moment, the film moves on to the chow line. While The Farmer sips wine and looks at Abby, everyone else is eating slop, a mass made mixture of ingredients. Beat up pots and worn containers contrast the small crystal glass the farmer held.

This next shot could simply be throwaway and insignificant, establishing space and moving alone the chow line. However, as the girl in the front turns back to talk behind and the people behind her seem amiable as well, the shot suggest this idea of community among the lower class. They’re uninvited in their simplistic lifestyle and unremarkable meal.

Here, one of the men asks Linda why she smokes, to which she replies “why do you wear a black hat?” To her, smoking has become a natural extension of herself, something tone almost without thinking.  Her underage smoking is brought up several times throughout the film as almost impropriate, as if she is doing something far too mature for her age. In fact, Linda does seem to display an unusual amount of insight and maturity throughout the narration.

The shot continues to pan over until Linda joins up with Abby, who asks to inspect he hands. The connection of hands and cigarettes made between these two short conversations actually alludes once again to Abby’s past, which was also alluded to in the boxcar when we first saw Linda.

The two meet Bill, who’s gotten a couple of plates of food. It continues until Bill meets this man, who not so subtly hints at the fact that Bill appears to be having sexual relations with his sister, Abby. It’s clear that their ruse isn’t the greatest especially if it can be seen through after  what appears to be only the passage of one day.

Bill, being a hothead, starts a fight. He tosses up his plates toward the man, pasting him with food, a waste of food that he can’t afford. The two tussle and Bill once again goes for the waste tackle. No, there’s nothing to be read into it, but it shows a consistency to Bill’s approach to a fight. The fight is quickly dispersed and Bill walks off.

The next few shots once again establish the sense of community among the lower class, a quiet moment contrasting the fight that just happened the moment before.

Abby says she’s a bit hungry and Bill offers up some potato from his shirt. Not a particularly important moment but a funny one that suggests a more intimate and romantic relationship between the two.

Linda tears off the feathers of a chicken. Simple shot, right? Well, first of all it goes back to the machine vs. nature idea as Linda leans against a wheel, the most basic symbol of man’s mechanical ingenuity as she tears apart the bird. Also, this act will be repeated later on in the film at a significant moment for one of the characters of the film.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing

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