Terrence Malick’s elegiac 1978 film, concerning a romantic triangle on a large wheat farm deep in Texas comes complete with its own mythos. The story goes that Malick was so unhappy with the line readings of his two young leads (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams), that he threw out most of his carefully crafted script and kept the dialogue to a bare minimum. The result is an almost unexpectedly gorgeous — and largely visual — film that, in many critic circles, is considered one of the more beautifully filmed movies of all time.
Gere and Adams play Bill and Abby, a young couple from Chicago who pose as brother and sister. Escaping the city after Bill has an altercation with his old boss, the couple, along with Bill’s kid sister, Linda (Linda Manz) eventually light at the Texas farm, where they plan to work for a season before moving on. Once there, though, the farmer (Sam Shepard) takes a fancy to Abby. Believing the farmer only has a year to live, Bill convinces her to marry him so they’ll be in line for the farmer’s estate after he passes, a decision he very soon regrets.
Whether the stories of the troubled shoot are true or not (and Malick is not much for press interviews either way) what remains on the screen — gorgeously captured by cinematographer Néstor Almendros — is suitably stunning in its own right. Actually shot in Alberta, Canada, the simplified imagery — all wheat fields, farm houses and a boundless prairie sky — help drive the film past its slightly overheated narrative into something quite different: A meditation on the simplicity of the earth and human beings’ endlessly self-serving and melodramatic emotional complexities.
Criterion has chosen one of the better visual films in their catalogue to give the full BD treatment here, and the result is truly stunning. A masterwork of contemplative images, the disc also offers up a decent assortment of extras, including numerous audio commentaries from editor Billy Weber and art director Jack Fisk, among others; an audio interview with Mr. Gere; and an essay by film critic Adrian Martin.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.