Days of Heaven

In repertory at Film Forum through April 27. Also on DVD.

I always felt sorry for Abimelech, the king in the book of Genesis who takes Abraham’s wife, Sarah, into his harem. He doesn’t realize he’s doing anything wrong because Abraham and Sarah both insist they are brother and sister before Abimelech even shows any interest in her. But God still curses him, making all the women in his household barren until the poor guy realizes he’s been fooled.

Judging from Days of Heaven, I think writer-director Terrence Malick might share my sympathy for Abimelech. The beautiful film, released in 1978, echoes that biblical story in its tale of two Depression-era laborers and the owner of a farm where they find work during the harvest. Days of Heaven easily could have been a heavy handed metaphor of class war — I admit I expected something like that: the bourgeois screwing the proletariat literally and figuratively — but Malick’s work, as I should have realized, is far more nuanced than that.

Big Love

Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO. Six episodes into the first season.

People who worried that HBO’s twisted new family drama, Big Love, would create support for the legalization of plural marriage probably needn’t have bothered. Although the show is sympathetic to the polygamous Hendricksons, it certainly doesn’t make their family structure — one husband, three wives and seven children — look desirable. None of the children see enough of their father, who is spread thin between three households. The patriarch of the family, Bill Hendrickson, is constantly overwhelmed by the needs, both emotional and financial, of his large, segmented family. The sister-wives, unable to completely suppress their natural jealousy, feel neglected and isolated and develop awful passive-aggressive tendencies. But what makes a family dysfunctional and unstable makes a television show dramatic and entertaining. If polygamy created a healthy, secure family unit, Big Love wouldn’t be nearly so intriguing.