Badlands has to be one of the weirdest and most daring debuts in film history. Sure, there’s Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, but this one really blows it away. Terrence Malick makes his major film debut in 1973 with this character study of two people who are on the run, and on a ride for their lives. This film basically cements the trademarks of Malick films to come: deep character studies, narrative voiceovers, and stunning visuals. It wasn’t a commercial success but still, there’s more to this film than just its commercial failure. It’s a film that makes us think also about society, how the people think of themselves and the world around them.The story is thin in words but strong in its images, and inspired on the Charles Starkweather-Caril Ann Fugate mass murders in 1958 Nebraska. It’s the story of a nobody called Kit Carruther (Martin Sheen), a young and repressed man living in South Dakota, who falls in love with a bored and solemn 15 year old native Holly Sargis (a beautiful Sissy Spacek). But when Holly’s father (Warren Oates) interferes, Kit kills him in cold blood. And after that they take off, killing whoever they meet, and whoever endangers them, and Holly narrates throughout the film their relationship, up to the very last scene.
"An Impressive Debut"
The film, as mentioned, is a character study on both Kit and Holly. Kit is a trigger-happy person, while Holly is just an observer, not caring about what he does, since the only thing that matters to her is that he loves her. This is where we get to the few problems that this film has. In certain ways, the film lacks credibility in the relationship that it’s portraying. Holly doesn’t seem to care too much about Kit, and looks more like she’s just a companion rather than his lover, making the relationship rather plastic. They just go together anywhere, and are more disappointed for the last time they had sex. Though in certain ways, both Kit and Holly may represent two major things in society, which is that Kit is the social outcast, a person shoved away from society due to his character and wanders in loneliness, and Holly is the normal life and the nature that is unfound in Kit, and if you look at it in another perspective, Holly’s attitude of “cooperating” in the murders, is more like mother nature, or even God, observing the actions of a misunderstood social outcast.
Speaking of social outcast, one of the most interesting things about this movie, is the way that Kit is portrayed. In the film there appears a short B&W photo montage of people and police officers in action, in other words, the film telling us that both Kit and Holly are now wanted by the Police. This is similar to the actions taken in Arthur Penn’s masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde, since they both become folk heroes for robbing banks and stuff. Malick takes it the other way around, depicting Kit as an anti-hero. You see that he’s recognized by the cops for the killings that he does, but Kit doesn’t put on an “I’m so badass” attitude. He’s just simply amazed that he’s such a figure now, but tat the same time he doesn’t care. The representation of those scenes is amazing and at the same time disturbing, since it makes you think and wonder about the people you praise, especially a serial killer like Kit. The way the mass media handles many situations, especially dealing with certain events like mass murders or any similar craze, is really scary on how they come up with shit, in order to start a mass hysteria amongst the people. Again, look at the example of Bonnie and Clyde, and how does the media make them famous because they rob banks and kill people. What this film is trying to observe is that the dark side of this mass hysteria is that the way they come up with shit like this makes you wonder who’s more psychotic, the killer or the people themselves, and the way the people react to anything like this, the act even more psychotic than the psycho himself. It’s scary and disturbing when you realize that, sadly, in our times, most of our society turns psycho in one knee-jerk after the media storm fuels your anger, and/or your amazement, just like it did with JFKs assassination, or Martin Luther King, and even September 11.
Artistically, Terrence Malick is a master in filmmaking. His eye for the camera and his sense of visual is incredible. Malick is a camera-eye director, and with help of his cinematographer Tak Fujimoto his vision is portrayed vividly. Every shot has a meaning and has a purpose for being there, and the breathless takes on the South Dakota country are amazing. After seeing this film, along with Days Of Heaven and the Thin Red Line (which I’ll review soon), Malick has become one of my favorite filmmakers, since he takes the essence of filmmaking to it’s very best and in a way that no other filmmaker could. Too bad that he didn’t get the success that he wanted, and retired for a long time, but came back in 1999, lets just hope he makes another good movie soon.
The performances are excellent. Martin Sheen gives an accurate performance as the rebel “James Dean”-like Kit, and Sissy Spacek, boy, she’s hot, she’s sizzling, and she’s also great in one of her first roles. The rest of the supporting cast, though they were fairly minor roles, were also great, especially Warren Oates as Holly’s dad.In the end, this film is really one of the most amazing debuts ever, it’s not perfect, but still, the movie comes on strong towards the end, and it’s message is as powerful as ever. Though as time passes by it has become somewhat overrated, one must not overlook how good this film is. Hell, at times it leaves Bonnie and Clyde for shit. 5-5
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originally posted: 02/12/02 13:48:23