I’ve been teaching Days of Heaven on and off for a several years now, and I transcribed Linda Manz‘s voice-over narration because I couldn’t find it online anywhere. Besides being one of the most extraordinary aspects of the film, it ranks as some of the finest poetry of the past 35 years.
Director Terrence Malick famously added Manz’s narration well after the film was completed; supposedly he showed her the film and let her comment freely (in character) on its scenes, then cut out portions and added them to the soundtrack. The result makes the film simultaneously more and less accessible (as Roger Ebert notes: “I remember seeing the film for the first time and being blind-sided by the power of a couple of sentences she speaks near the end”); it also rewrites the film as Linda’s story, giving it a narrative and emotional center essential to the film’s coherence. Days of Heaven is unimaginable without it, and I might argue that no one—Malick very much included—has used narration so masterfully, and so poetically, since.
The full text is below the jump.
This narration runs sporadically throughout the entire film. I didn’t include the respective times; apologies. (The next time I watch the film on DVD, I’ll try to note them.) The line breaks indicate pauses in Linda Manz’s delivery. Ellipses represent breaks in the narration.
LINDA: “Me and my brother, it just used to be me and my brother.
We used to do things together.
We used to have fun.
We used to roam the streets.
There was people suffering of pain and hunger.
Some people, their tongues were hanging out of their mouth.
He used to juggle apples.
He was—he used to amuse us.
He used to entertain us.”
“In fact, all three of us been going places.
Looking for things, searching for things.
Going on adventures.
They told everybody they were brother and sister.
My brother didn’t want nobody to know.
You know how people are.
You tell them something, they start talking.”
“I met this guy named Ding-Dong.
He tell me the whole earth is going up in flames.
Flames will come out of here and there, and it’ll just rise up.
The mountains are going to go up in big flames.
The water’s going to rise in flames.
There’s going to be creatures running every which way, some of them burnt, half their wings burnin.
People are going to be screaming and howling for help.
They—The people that’s been good, they’re going to go to heaven and escape all that fire.
But if you’ve been bad, God don’t even hear you. He don’t even hear you talking.”
“This farmer, he didn’t know when he first saw her,
or what it was about her that caught his eye.
Maybe it was the way the wind blew through her hair.”
“He knew he was gonna die.
He knew there was nothing there could be done.
You’re only live on this earth once.
And up to my opinion, as long as you’re around, you should have it nice.”
“From the time the sun went up, till it went down, they were working all the time,
non-stop. Just keep going.
You didn’t work, they’d ship you right out of there.
They don’t need you. They can always get somebody else.”
“This farmer, he had a big spread, and a lot of money.
Whoever was sitting in the chair when he came around,
why they’d 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 headin’ for the boneyard any minute,
but he wasn’t really going around squawking 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 something.
“He was tired of living like the rest of them,
nosin’ around like a pig in the gutter.
He wasn’t in the mood no more.
He figured there must be something 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 getting us all together.”
“I’ve been thinking what to do with my future.
I could be a mud doctor,
checking out the Earth, underneath.”
“We’ve never been this rich, all right?
I mean, we were just all of a sudden, living like kings.
Just nothing to do all day but crack jokes and lay around.
We didn’t have to work.
I’m telling you, the rich got it figured out.”
“I got to like this farm.
Do anything I want. Roll in the fields.
Talk to the wheat patches.
When I was sleeping, they’d talk to me.
They’d go in my dreams.”
“Nobody sent us letters. We didn’t receive no cards.
Sometimes I feel very old, like my whole life is over.
Like I’m not around no more.”
“Instead of getting sicker, he just stayed the same.
He didn’t get sicker. He didn’t get better.
They were kind-hearted and thought, he was going out on his own steam.
The doc must’ve come over, or someone gave him something.
Probably some kind of medicine or something.
I could have just took it and put it in a ditch.
Like they do to a horse. They shoot him right away.”
“Just as things were about to blow, this flying circus came in
After six months on this sweet patch, I needed a breath of fresh air.
They was screaming and yelling and bopping each other.
He, the big one, pushed the little one and said come on, I started, you start.
The little one just started in.
If they couldn’t think of a good one to come back with, they’d start fighting.
The little one said, no, I didn’t do this.
The big one said, yes, you did do this.
You couldn’t sort it out.
The devil’s just sitting there laughing.
He’s glad when people does bad.
Then he sends them to the snake house.
He’s just sits there and laughs and watch
while you’re sitting there all tied up with snakes and eating your eyes out.
They go down your throat and eat all your systems out.
“I think the devil was on the farm.”
“He’d seen how it all was.
She loves the farmer.
“He taught me keys on the pianos and notes.
He taught me about the parts of our globe.”
There was never a perfect person around.
You just got half devil and half angel in you.
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 a river and everything’s quiet.
I never knowed it before.
And you could see people on the shore,
but they was far off and you couldn’t see what they were doing.
They were probably … calling for help or something,
or they were trying to bury somebody or something.
We seen trees that the leaves are shaking,
and it looks like shadows of guys coming at you and stuff.
We heard owls squawking away, moving away.
We didn’t know where we were going, what we were going 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 goosepimples.
That felt like cold hands touching the back of my neck, and—
and it could have been the dead coming for me or something.
I remember this guy, his name was … Blackjack. He died.
He only had one leg, and he died.
And I think that was Blackjack making those noises.”
“This girl, she didn’t know where she was goin’ or what she was gonna do.
She didn’t have no money on her.
Maybe she’d meet up with a character.
I was hoping things would work out for her.
She was a good friend of mine.”
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Jeremy [M. Davies] is the author of the critically-acclaimed film-centric novel Rose Alley, and an editor at Dalkey Archive Press in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.
- Source Code, Friends, Woody Allen, The Man from London, Sucker Punch, Zardoz, Tron, Willow, and Shoot ‘Em Up
- Source Code, Moon, and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
- Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, all films Kenneth Branagh, Sleuth, Joseph Mankiewicz, Thor, and superhero movies (every one)
- Midnight in Paris (and other recent Woody Allens)
- Extra: Ranking Woody Allen
- The Tree of Life
- Extra: Linda’s Voice-Over Narration in Days of Heaven
- X-Men: First Class