Badlands (1973)

Terrence Malick directs Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek and Warren Oates in this lovers on the run romance about a teenage girl who falls for a violent but friendly sociopath. 

God, the sky looks grand in this. An expanse of blue and white that looks like hope and eternity. The folksy blanket under which sleeps an amoral classic, slight and meandering but undistracted from its own beauty. The movie is hazily dreamlike with a ragged ambling pace. Malick is still finding his voice here as a director and while it is confidently ethereal and bold in its blank humanity, it is also easily his most accessible work. You get the feeling the confident end product betrays an auteur finding his feet. There are burst action and seduction and play that feel there more for the audience than for their artistic or thematic noodling. Who is holding whose hand in this debut? It is hard to tell.

Natalie and I have been having an accidental ‘Sissy Spacek Season’ this month. Unintentional but she is a fascinating screen presence, both childlike yet utterly enigmatic. Her narration is playfully obtuse – you are never sure if she truly is as innocent as her naive narration posits, or if she is lying to herself… or us… or putting words into Kit Carruthers mouth… and if she is, are we hearing her defence of her complicity? Or that defence lawyer who is part of her happy ending? For a role that on first watch comes across cute yet detached, there are complexities therein. The question crops up again… Who is holding whose hand?

Let’s take Martin Sheen’s twitchy but charming Kit Carruthers. A boy who treats his crimes as an unavoidable adventure. He is interested in creating his own legend, building a monument for the site of his own arrest and handing out souvenirs to his pursuers. For him fame and infamy, atrocity and necessity are a blurred line he doesn’t understand. But he ends up caught and doomed, but Spacek’s Holly is lifted away in a helicopter, takes magical flight, to a new life. One has a future, the other survives only in gossip, a forgotten monster of the headlines. Badlands is scrappily formed, perfectly filmed fairy tale of freedom and adventure… the lovers on the run  sub genre was born here. The superior True Romance steals liberally from it, just about every modern “Southern” film owes it deference.



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