Review: Badlands (1973)


You punish your daughter by killing her dog? How about I punish your daughter by putting a spear through your head?

Written By: Terrence Malick
Directed By: Terrence Malick

I wrote recently in my review of The Andromeda Strain that I need my movies to compel me or interest me, they can’t be emotionless. Badlands is a perfect example of what I mean when I say emotionless. Badlands doesn’t place any outside emotions on its characters, but they are living breathing people who provide moments of emotion that intrigue and compel me to continue watching. Detached emotion doesn’t bother me in the least, what bothers me in films is a total lack of emotion, and Badlands excels in detached emotion without suffering from any lack of emotion.

What most struck me about Badlands was the tranquil nature of the visuals and the tone. I shouldn’t have been surprised in a Terrence Malick film to find acts of great violence played out over a beautiful tranquil setting. But, in Badlands the setting seems more natural than it did in The New World or The Thin Red Line. That’s not to say the visuals or tone were bad in those films, but in Badlands the tone and the visuals flow more naturally, they go hand in hand with one another and create one aesthetically pleasing picture.

When looking back at a Malick film I find that the urge is to look only at the visuals and the themes Malick is putting forth, but to do so in Badlands would be a great disservice to Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Sheen is the better of the two by far, but he is also given more to convey with Kit. We don’t know why Kit does what he does, and Sheen brings that to us in every scene, he moves like a primal force, there is no rhyme or reason for his actions. For some reason I usually find Spacek being talked about in negative terms. I can’t say that any of her other performances have stuck with me, but I did quite enjoy her in Badlands. I don’t think she plays Holly as dumb as seems obvious, but rather she played her as naive. Holly acts like a child the entire movie and Spacek plays her with the right amount of open eyed wonderment to make me believe she was completely naive.

Is Badlands about anything, or is it an observational movie only? I believe it is a little bit of both. Badlands presents a story and doesn’t judge it, therefore it is leaving it up to you to interpret what you see. At the same time Badlands presents some ideas such as the quest for celebrity that Kit seems to be interested in (although this is played out in an almost benign fashion when compared to the completely celebrity driven infamous pair of Bonnie and Clyde). However, what I most took away from Badlands was the detached violence. Not only are we detached from the violence, but so are Kit and Holly. Kit kills, but he doesn’t care, his victims don’t matter to him, nor do they matter to Kit. They weren’t bad people, they didn’t deserve to die, but they had to. This creates a scenario where you want to get closer to these characters to find out what makes them tick, but the dialogue and stark imagery combined with the violence keep you at arms length from a pair of characters that are bewildering.

Badlands is the first Malick film I have seen that I would label a master work, I have yet to see Days Of Heaven. It feels like more of a complete picture where all its parts are working in concert than either The Thin Red Line or The New World. Badlands shows us violence and takes us on a road trip, it isn’t a trip that we understand or necessarily want to be on. But, we are interested, we go along for the ride and don’t want to get off because of our morbid curiosity. Badlands is a heck of a movie, much more interesting than that one time I was actually in South Dakota.




One response to “Review: Badlands (1973)

  1. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Upcoming Direction! | Bill's Movie Emporium

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