The Story (continued)
Days of Heaven (1978)
The seeds germinate (shown in time-lapse photography), and the green wheat grass sprouts, with the tips beginning to turn golden. The foreman, back from exile, inspects the next season's fledgling crop. A new group of immigrants ride the train tops to the Panhandle to find work. Wagons bring the migrants to the farm, in preparation for the coming harvest. Through various ebbs and flows, and alternating emotional moods, it has been a year since Abby has been at the farm, where she has found a new life with the farmer. The wind malevolently stirs the tassels and stalks of the wheat crop, and produces undulating golden amber waves of grain.
Along the muddy road, Bill rides a newly-purchased, two-seater motorcycle up to the house. He glances through a window where he views Abby dancing to herself on the back porch in a white crinoline dress. Abby is stand-offish and they don't speak to each other. Linda jumps into his arms, and the farmer comments that Bill looks "just the same." Except for Linda, they don't seem happy that he has returned. From the field at dusk, Bill looks into the living room where the refined, in-love couple spend time and then climb the stairs to their bedroom. The next day, Abby apologizes to Bill and explains that her love cannot be reclaimed. She makes peace with him, knowing that she can never love him the way she used to. He dismisses her cares and vows that he holds no grudges:
You didn't do nothin' to me. I didn't know what I had with you. I think about it, the things I said to you, how I pushed you into this. I got nobody to blame but myself.
But as Bill gives Abby a light farewell kiss and they sympathetically caress each other, their intimacies are in full view of the farmer on the roof behind the noisy vanes of the wind generator. Wounded and hurt by assuming an ongoing affair of a duplicitous wife, the farmer's jealousy overcomes him, even though Abby's love for him is assured. He breathes in gasps as he grips the beams in the ceiling - his heartbeat grows louder on the soundtrack.
The wheat fields turn a magnificent golden brown. Bison graze and move off, and horses whinny and gallop - expectant and sensing something ominous, but not knowing what will transpire. In the kitchen, Linda cuts up vegetables, and spies a small cricket on a head of lettuce. She picks it off and snaps its body between her fingers. In the field, Bill is puzzled that so many grasshoppers have appeared out of nowhere. As the peacocks walk in the yard, every step kicks up dozens of locusts. A locust floats in Abby's bathing basin. Linda swings at them in the kitchen with a flyswatter.
One transgressing and annoying insect leads to many more - until the insatiable intruders have multiplied and enveloped the entire farm, and brought a cloud of destruction and chaos. The implacable, gnawing locusts are beginning to swarm and appear everywhere - and the noise of their presence builds to a crescendo pitch. They sit ready to apply their strong mandibles to the tender crop. Magnified views of the creatures show them poised to devour the wheat stalks. [The impersonal forces of nature reflect the disconnectedness of the personal tragedy that is brewing among the characters. Additionally, the forces of war in Europe will abruptly bring the United States out of its period of isolationist innocence and peace.]
A red storm flag is hoisted, and a warning siren is sounded, to signal workers into the fields with shovels, branches, noisemakers and other swatters to scare off the invaders - kill them, smoke them out, collect them by the bushel-full, and burn them in a bonfire. But they are at nature's mercy for the locusts have already done their damage. They fill the air like an immense cloud and block the sun, and their wings produce a deafening, hissing sound. All that can be done is to wait for them to move elsewhere and subside naturally.
As the farmer inspects the grain in the shadowy light of his lantern carried on the end of a pole, Bill walks up to him to express his sympathy, but is rejected and pushed away: "What do you care?" In a hostile gesture, the raging farmer - suspecting the truth about Bill - swings his lantern at him and accidentally splashes kerosene and flames onto the crops nearby. The field is set ablaze as Bill cries out: "Are you crazy?" He then retaliates behind a wall of flame: "Let it burn!" The flames consume both the crops and the locusts. Abby and Bill are silhouetted against the roaring, fateful ring of fire growing around them:
Bill: He doesn't understand. What are we gonna do? We gotta get outta here.
Abby: He knows.
A giant tractor is brought in to fight the fire - to plow a firebreak to prevent the fire from spreading. The wind whips the flames into a roaring inferno, and the panicky farm workers must make a run from the engulfing holocaust. Disoriented animals dart into the spectacular flames.
The farmer approaches Abby, frightened and covered in dust and soot, in their upstairs bedroom (is she packing to leave or unsure what to do?). He bellows: "What did you want from me?" Foolishly consumed with jealousy, he removes a gun from his desk, to be used to track down and kill Bill. Abby pursues him down the stairs to prevent him from doing harm, but he throws her aside, and ties her hands with rope to a wooden porch column. He screams that he distrusts her faithfulness: "You're a liar!"
As dawn breaks, the farmer rides through his burnt-out fields, still looking for Bill as a blue heron walks on the ashes of the wheat field. He finds Bill repairing his motorcycle in the middle of the scorched field. He jumps down from his horse, and brandishes his weapon. After a tense face-to-face stand-off, the farmer approaches Bill with the gun, who defends himself with the screwdriver in his hand. The sharp tool is plunged into the farmer's chest close to his heart. Bill flees on foot to find Abby at the house. The anguished, dying farmer looks back, noting the black, billowing smoke that covers the dawn's sunrise. The foreman, burned and disheveled from the night's catastrophe, discovers his master's corpse on the ground, weeps, and vows vengeance.
Shivering, but freed from the ropes, Abby listens to Bill's simple decision to flee:
Look, I'll tell you the whole story later. Nothing we can do about it now.
The three of them escape the results of pestilence by driving away in the farmer's car, through the entryway gate (broken-down and burning at its foundation). At a ferry-crossing, they negotiate (in pantomime) and bargain with the proprietor for passage across the river with Abby's necklace (a gift from the farmer). The first night, they find privacy and refuge on the banks of the river's shore, with blankets, a phonograph, and a fire to cook freshly-caught carp. They continue their journey the next day, passing hunters along the shore, and beautiful views of nature and wildlife. They join around bonfires with other river folk. Linda's recollections mirror how they have left their idyllic surroundings:
(Linda's voice-over) Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just got half-devil and half-angel in ya. She promised herself she'd lead a good life from now on. She blamed it all on herself...She didn't care if she was happy or not. She just wanted to make up for what she did wrong...The sun looks ghostly when there's a mist on the river and everything's quiet. I never knowed it before. You could see people on the shore but it was far off and you couldn't see what they were doin'. They were probably callin' for help or somethin', or they were tryin' to bury somebody or somethin'. We seen trees that the leaves are shakin' and it looks like shadows of guys comin' at you and stuff. We heard owls squawkin' away, oonin' away. We didn't know where we were goin', what we were goin' to do. I've never been on a boat before. That was the first time...Some sights that I saw was really spooky that it gave me goose pimples. I felt like cold hands touchin' the back of my neck and - and it could be the dead comin' for me or somethin'. I remember this guy, his name was Black Jack. He died. He only had one leg, and he died. And I think that was Black Jack makin' those noises.
Meanwhile, the foreman has gathered together a group of lawmen, and holds the framed wedding portrait of Abby and the farmer (draped with a black funeral ribbon) to interrogate possible witnesses. Wild turkeys gobble in the forest, where the fugitives have camped under a tarp. Bill walks under the canopy of colorful trees, and by the river's edge notices police officers at their ferry boat. When one of the officers identifies him, Bill darts into the wilderness undergrowth and races back to the camp. Policemen on horseback and a posse with dogs pursue him through the woods. Bill reaches the camp, grabs his shotgun and ammunition, touches Abby momentarily on the cheek, and warns her: "Just stay here." He races back to the riverbank and hides in the thick growth, to draw them away from Abby and Linda.
By the shoreline, Bill attempts to make a break across the muddy flats. But he is slowed down and shot in the back during his frenzied retreat across the sand bar by two mounted officers. He falls face first into the water. Abby watches as his body floats face-up in the surging river. In grief, she kneels above his body and sobs. People from the opposite rivershore witness the scene.
The camera tracks back from a player piano, in the corner of an upstairs dance practice room where young girls, including Linda, are being instructed. Abby has enrolled Linda in the boarding school, and assured her: "You'll make lots of friends, you'll be all right," although Linda is saddened and uncertain. Abby walks to the train station along a wooden sidewalk, through a small town where life goes on. Young men are hugged by girlfriends and wives, now that the US has entered the Great War in 1917, and the troops are bound for Europe. A five-piece band plays a Sousa March to bid the soldiers goodbye. Abby boards a moving train taking soldiers to the front.
The next dawning morning, Linda boldly escapes from the dance academy by lowering herself from the third story window on a rope made of bedsheets. She is watched from the other windows by other gleeful schoolgirls in their nightgowns. The down-to-earth, unfazed teenager meets up with her friend from the fields, and catches up on the news of the past year:
I got a new boyfriend. He's in the Army. Maybe he'll get killed or something. I don't know. Anyway, he said I'm pretty. And maybe I am.
They race into an alley, smoke cigarettes next to some railroad tracks, and mindlessly chat, before walking away down the rails - oblivious toward a bleak and unknown future:
Friend: I don't wait two hours for nobody.
Linda: Maybe he don't have a watch.
Friend: Yeah, if I believe that, he'll tell me another. His name was Edward. (They giggle) He was nice. I liked him. I don't know. He said he was gonna buy me a fur (pronounced 'fuh'). I always wanted a fur.
Linda: Where are ya goin'?
Friend: For a walk. I don't know where, but go beat the heck out of some tree or somethin'. Take it out on them. You comin' with me, or what?
(Linda's voice-over) This girl, she didn't know where she was goin' or what she was goin' to do. She didn't have no money on her. Maybe she'd meet up with a character. I was hopin' things would work out for her. She was a good friend of mine.