The Function of Place and Space in “Days of Heaven” by Terence Malick Essay

Film theory deals with the exploration of the nature and essence of films, their influence on the audience, relationships of the film context and scenes with reality, society, its history and culture. Films use specific “means of expression”, such as camera work, lightning, shots, sound.


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Place and space are ones of the most influential means of expression that are used to render the changes of time, plot of the films and historical context. They are extremely important for the understanding of the theme and message of the film, and create specific form of it.

Moreover, they influence the intellectual and emotional processes of viewing a film. In this paper, we are going to discuss the function of place and space in Days of Heaven by Terence Malick produced in 1978. Place and space are skillfully used in the film and contribute greatly to the understanding of the film and its main characters.

The settings of the Days of Haven are the Texas of the early 20 th century. The film tells the story of two lovers, Abby and Bill who came there to find better living. The story develops in the picturesque landscape of the crop fields, woods and beautiful rivers. The film is considered to be landmark of the American cinema and it is widely recognized as one of the best films of the 1970s American cinema.

The director made use of the powerful symbolism of nature which shaped the scenes of the film, its dialogues and plot. One of the most significant features of the film is that all major events and scenes are developing in the specific landscapes. The choice of landscapes is not accidental. They contribute to the audience’s perception of the scenes and shape their meaning.

The film Days of Haven can be considered a revolutionary in the use of such expressive means as time and space. Almost every minute, the screen is filled with beautiful, startling images of the open crop fields. There are many panoramic close-ups of the open landscapes and waving fields.

These images influence on the understanding of the characters of the protagonists of the film very much. It seems, as if they are losing their individualities; their needs and motifs are miniaturized comparing to the vivid landscapes of the Texas. Thus, in the film, “the project of deploying space as an analytical tool involves consideration of a number of different aspects of space” (Thomas 1).


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One of the most inspiring scenes of the film is the episode of the “Golden Hour” from the Cricket and Fire scene. In is one of the most beautiful pictures one can see during the film.

It is very symbolic as encompasses the transition from the first act of the film to the second and embodies the change that should happen in lives of the protagonists. The use of space in this scene has a great meaning. First of all, it shows that person has no power over the nature and, at the same time, he is a part of it.

Thus, the Days of Haven is truly one of the most beautiful films of the American cinema. It is notable for the extraordinary usage of the space and place. These expressive means contribute greatly to the development of the plot and influence the perception of the film by the audience.

Works Cited

Thomas, Deborah. Reading Hollywood: Spaces and Meanings in American Film. London: Wallflower Press, 2001.