The Story (continued)
Days of Heaven (1978)
That evening, Linda roasts a peacock over a spit, as Bill tells her a joke: "I saved your life today...I killed a shit-eating dog...I'm always lookin' out for you." [Attributed reportedly to comedian Redd Fox, and acknowledged in the end credits.] Rather than sleeping in the bunkhouse, many of the workers choose to sleep outdoors next to hay stacks or small fires. In the chill and frost of dawn and bundled in blankets, Bill has empty dreams of a better life for Abby and himself:
Bill: It's only for a while. Then we go to New York.
Abby: And then what?
Bill: Then we're there. Then we get fixed up.
Another day of relentless work - dew on the rustling stalks, a blacksmith hammering a horseshoe, Bill and Abby hoisting wheat onto a wagon:
(Linda's voice-over) From the time the sun went up 'till it went down, they were workin' all the time. Nonstop. Just keep goin'. You didn't work. They'd ship ya right outta there. They don't need you. They can always get somebody else.
Huge, steam-engined threshing tractors, monstrous threatening symbols of the dawn of industrialization, separate the wheat from the chaff. They roll alongside the miniscule workers, who toss the piles of sheaves into its jaws. The back of the machine spits out a long shoot of chaff.
As the farmer reclines on a sofa under the shade of an outdoor umbrella, his accountant (Bob Wilson) tallies up the harvest's bumper yield and profit:
Accountant: That's at a profit of $4.75 an acre, multiply that by 20,000, you're talkin' over six figures.
Farmer: Big year.
Accountant: Your biggest ever. Should make you the richest man in the Panhandle. You ought to get out while you're this far ahead. You have nothin' to gain by stayin'.
A telescope is positioned on a three-legged tripod to watch the operations from afar. The farmer looks at his reason for "stayin" - Abby through the lens of the telescope encircled by black. Bill works on a pile of straw at the back of the machine, and is later joined by Abby, as the harvest work is winding down for the day - and for the season:
(Linda's voice-over) This farmer, he had a big spread and a lot of money. Whoever was sitting in the chair when he'd come around, why did they stand up and give it to him? Wasn't no harm in him. You'd give him a flower, he'd keep it forever. He was headed for the boneyard any minute. But he wasn't really goin' around squawkin' about it like some people. In one way, I felt sorry for him, 'cause he had nobody to stand out for him, be by his side, hold his hand when he needs attention or somethin'. That's touchin'.
Abby sews up the last few burlap sacks next to the separator that evening. Drawn to the pretty worker, the farmer ambles over to her and nervously but courageously inquires about her plans, and invites her to remain after the harvest - with obvious intentions to woo her:
Farmer: Probably be all done by tomorrow. (He sits next to her on one of the sacks.) You still plan on goin' North?
Abby: (nodding) Hm-mm.
Farmer: The reason I ask is, uh, maybe you'd like to stay on here. Be easier than it is now. There's not that much work after the harvest. Pay's just as good. It's an idea. You could think about it and let me know later.
Abby: I gotta run.
Farmer: Who's that?
Abby: My brother.
Abby leaves with Bill, who has been watching from a distance. They walk barefooted in the river that evening, and discuss their own unhappy, doomed working lives of hardship and poverty, and the prospect of something better if she accepts the farmer's offer. Without telling her about the farmer's ill health and incurable condition, Bill contemplates a plan to escape their drifters' life. Their staying might lead to Abby's marriage to the wealthy farmer, followed by his expected imminent death, and an anticipated inheritance:
Bill: He's stuck on ya...Doesn't have any family either. Why don't you tell him you'll stay?
Abby: What for?
Bill: I don't know. Somethin' might happen. What's your mouth hanging open for? Don't tell me, I already know - on account of your unhappy life. All that shit. Well, I'm tellin' you, we gotta do somethin' about it. You can't expect anybody else to.
The work is shut down for the season, and the workers are lined up to be paid their well-earned wages at a payroll table. The decision to stay is left up to Abby.
(Linda's voice-over) He [Bill] was tired of livin' like the rest of 'em, nosin' around like a pig in a gutter. He wasn't in the mood no more. He figured there must be somethin' wrong with him, the way they always got no luck, and they ought to get it straightened out. He figured some people need more than they got, other people got more than they need. Just a matter of gettin' us all together.
The festivities to celebrate the end of the harvest work start in the afternoon - Linda dances a lively jig with a black man (Gene Bell) on a rectangular piece of plywood as a harmonica player accompanies them. Ice cream is served. Some of the workers compete in an impromptu sledgehammer throw. Abby is uncertain why Bill, usually possessive, is coaxing her to stay, lie, and 'whore' herself, for the unseen promise of unearned riches:
Abby: You never used to be like this.
Bill: As long as I can remember, people been givin' me a hard time about one thing or another. Don't you start in, too. Big federal case. You don't have to decide anything final now, just if we're gonna stay.
A French-speaking fiddler (Doug Kershaw) entertains dancing harvesters around a bonfire on the prairie. Embers from the fire sparkle as they rise up out of the flames. On the last night, Abby speaks to the farmer about remaining there - with her blood sibling relations:
Yeah, I can stay, sure. I gotta keep my brother and sister with me, you know.
The farmer square-dances with Abby, as Bill walks off toward the moon on the horizon. With the dawn's light, the other harvesters walk to the railroad tracks to catch the freight train to their next work assignment. Linda says goodbye to her girlfriend, who warns: "Don't do nothin' wrong." The workers climb up the cars onto the moving cars of the train, as Linda mournfully watches her only friend's departure.
Abby operates a pedal-operated cream separator on the porch of the farmer's house, but still dorms with the others in the bunkhouse. Bill works on the farm machinery, and the farmer checks out the wind-generator on the roof:
(Linda's voice-over) I'm been thinkin' what to do with my future. I could be a mud doctor, checkin' out the earth underneath.
A frog ribbits. Thunder claps resound as storm clouds reach the ground and bring drenching rain to a far-distant part of the prairie. While it rains, Linda questions Abby's decision to stay:
Linda: Why are ya doin' this?
Abby: When I was your age, I was all by myself in the world. I used to sit and wrap cigars until after dark. My skin was as white as paper. I never saw the daylight. This is not so bad.
Abby cartwheels across a field, entertaining Bill, and as they lie together, he speaks nostalgically about her: "I can remember the first time I ever saw you...Never seen hair as black as yours, skin so pretty. I was scared I'd never see you again." The four of them play baseball with lace pillows substituting for bases.
Bill speaks to the farmer about his idealistic vision of 'heaven on earth,' with dreams of materialistic gain. However, the reality of life was that he was left without a "big score" - fatefully condemned to live the dark life of a poverty-stricken, working-class loser:
One day, you wake up, you find you're not the smartest guy in the world. You're never gonna come up with the big score. When I was growin' up, I thought I really would.
In the wooded forest, Abby dances for the farmer, and expresses her aspirations to be a dancer. Unexpectedly, the farmer touches Abby's hand for the first time: "I think I love you." Abby is slightly startled, but responds: "What a nice thing to say." When she tells Bill what transpired, he is both surprised and jealous, but consents to view the farmer's love as a great blessing and opportunity. For the first time, a bewildered Abby learns of the lonely farmer's illness. As a way to ease the man's pain, to provide him a way to "enjoy his money" in his twilight days, and to make their own lives happier, Abby is given the immoral option (and permission) to deceive the sickly man - and marry him, even though she has already pledged her love to Bill. By trading in Abby's love, he calculates that they will soon share in the dying farmer's fortune:
Bill: I never thought he'd have the guts. Who'd know but you and me?
Bill: That's all that matters, isn't it?
Abby: You talk like it was all right?
Bill: He'll never have a chance to enjoy his money, anyway.
Abby: What makes you think we're talkin' about just a couple of months?
Bill: The man's got one foot on a banana peel, the other on a roller skate. We'll all be gone in a couple of years. Who's gonna care that we acted perfect?
Abby: (resisting) I held out a long time. I had rich men pay me compliments. Have I ever said anything to make you...
Bill: You don't have to. I mean, I hate it, to see you stooped over out there, him lookin' at your ass like you're a whore. I hate it.
Shaped in a V, geese fly South for the winter. In the grove of trees by the river, Abby is married to the farmer in a formal ceremony. The Preacher ominously threatens that they "will answer at the dreadful day of judgment...if either of you know any impediment." Abby recites the familiar wedding vows - now endowed with richer meaning: "For richer, and for poorer, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part." Linda holds the train of Abby's wedding gown. After the exchange of a ring, a hand bell is rung.
That night in the farmer's bed, Abby sits propped up on her pillow and quietly watches as the farmer enters the bedroom, and sits down on the far side of the canopied bed.
Farmer: You're like an angel.
Abby: I wish I was.
Farmer: Does all this seem strange to you? (She nods)
The farmer proposes that Bill move his things into the house on the hill, while he and Abby are gone for their honeymoon. As they drive away, Linda runs after the car, slaps the back fender, pretends that she is run over by the back tire, and hops around on one foot. Bill cautiously enters the unfamiliar Victorian home - with framed family portraits of the farmer's ancestors, neatly furnished and carpeted rooms, and a wine decanter with two crystal glasses on a table.