Terrence Malick has a way of making the most ordinary things seem positively monumental, even Biblical. That tendency has hit an apex, perhaps, with The Tree of Life (and To the Wonder, probably, which I haven’t seen, but the priest character isn’t in there by accident), but even as far back as Badlands and Days of Heaven, it’s there. It’s there in the cinematography, the pacing, the voiceovers…everything that makes a Malick film a Malick film.
Days of Heaven follows a trio of migrant workers in 1916 America – a man, his young sister, and his lover,who pretends to be his sister as well, because he thinks it’ll require less explanation. If you’re Biblically minded, this pretense may already suggest a portion of the story of Abraham, when his entourage is traveling around and he pretends Sarah is his sister instead of his wife, for even less explicable reasons. In the Bible story, the king of the land takes a shine to Sarah and intends to marry her, but Abraham ponies up that she’s his wife, and the king is like “whoa, sorry dude” and everything’s cool. In Days of Heaven, the plantation owner takes a shine to the woman, Abby, and the man, Bill, comes up with a plan for her to marry the owner, who he overhears is terminally ill, so she (and by extension, Bill) can inherit the plantation.