Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Ramon Bieri, Warren Oates, Alan Vint, Gary Littlejohn
America’s obsession with serial killers and crime can be seen simply from looking through a Netflix catalog and different books, films, and television series that center around incessant killing. It gets to the point where we’re desensitized to the true evils of these people and their celebrity seems to overtake their horrible actions. Through a story like Badlands, we get to explore just how much evil can be overlooked.
Holly (Sissy Spacek) lives an unfulfilled teenage life seeking something more when she meets Kit (Martin Sheen), who has the looks of a James Dean type. She quickly becomes infatuated with the young garbage collector and they run off together, not before getting into trouble and leaving some dead bodies in their wake.
Initially viewing this film had me incredibly scared, because it would be the very first Terrence Malick film I would have experienced. For anyone who has not sat through a Malick film, it requires a shift in expectations, as he focuses more on ideas and beliefs rather than a straight plot structure. Serving as the first film in his feature directing career, surprisingly enough Badlands was pretty straightforward, especially when compared to The Tree of Life, To the Wonder, and his other contemplative works. That certainly does not diminish the greatness Malick achieves in this spellbinding journey of love and death.
The two young lovers live their life through their emotions and it dictates all of their actions in the story. Holly develops this love for Kit in a small amount of time and decides that her life would be best if she went with him. She ignores the demands of her father, who obviously had the right intentions. Kit lets his anger get the best of him and becomes the reason they get entangled into the entire mess that pursues them once they head out on their own. What could have been a perfect little paradise for them, quickly turns into a nightmare neither of them expected. This lack of emotional control says plenty about them, but their relationship speaks volumes about what people overlook and refuse to acknowledge when caught in some sweeping story.
To put it plainly, this relationship becomes very toxic but it had its roots from the very beginning. It begins with their age with Kit being 10 years the senior of Holly. Depending on the age, it might not be a big deal, except Holly’s only 15 and Kit clocks in at 25. A man in his mid-20s and a child going on this hectic trip feels incredibly icky and that’s before factoring the troubling behaviors of Kit. He possesses those qualities that lured women to fall for Manson and Bundy, as they used their charm to inflict incredible harm. Holly’s actions in the film come nowhere close to what Kit does because she’s blinded by him as a figure and it takes far too long for her to see clearly.
Their relationship feels like Bonnie and Clyde until you look at it for what it truly is, an aggressive man sexually abusing a child. Malick exceptionally wraps them into the badlands area of Montana and engrosses their relationship as two lovers on the run, only to hammer home the point by the very end. It’s exceptional work, as it condemns a culture that would soon rise and show that these people should not be celebrated. They should only be looked upon as the monsters they have always been.
The cinematography looks breathtaking, which happens to be the case in most Malick films. It shows the badlands of Montana to be the beautiful backdrop for the truly heinous actions taking place in front of us. The narrative contains some visually striking moments that have influenced the works of other directors making an homage to specific sequences that have made Badlands a standout feature. In all of Malick’s filmography, it really feels like the odd one out, but it still remains his most accessible film and one that people should watch first before taking on his other more pensive and reflective features.
The ending brings the entire narrative together to show the unfortunate circumstance of what the legacy of these characters will be. With it being based on a true set of events, it felt like a warning back in the 1970s that we would obsess over these destructive people. Terrence Malick knew what he was doing and presented it in a sensational way of mixing the beauty of this nation and the disgusting people that inhabit it.