[Last Film I Watched] Badlands (1973)

Badlands poster

Title: Badlands
Year: 1973
Country: USA
Language: English, Spanish
Genre: Drama, Crime
Director/Writer: Terence Malick
Music: George Aliceson Tipton
Cinematography:
Tak Fujimoto
Stevan Larner
Brian Probyn
Cast:
Martin Sheen
Sissy Spacek
Warren Oates
Ramon Bieri
Alan Vint
Gary Littlejohn
John Carter
Terrence Malick
Charlie Sheen
Emilio Estevez
Rating: 7.4/10

Terrence Malick’s directing debut, BADLANDS draws its inspiration from the notorious true event of the killing spree executed by Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate in 1958, it is narrated by a 15-year-old girl Holly Sargis (Spacek) in South Dakota, who lives in a small town with her widower father (Oates). When she meets Kit (Martin Sheen), a one-decade-senior loafer who has been just fired from his garbage collecting job.

Boy meets girl, it is the ever common thing happens any minute, anywhere, but who can tell if the one is a bad seed? And in this case, two bad seeds hit it off immediately, Kit is trigger-happy, volatile and amoral, he can shoot Holly’s dad without blinking his eyes, which tellingly mirrors the latter’s previous action of killing off Holly’s pet dog as a punishment for her to see Kit behind his back. People are like animals in the eyes of Kit, can be feasibly dispatched if they are in the way, but, only when they are in the way, the subsequent happenings show that Kit is not a pathological killer, if his preys manifest no harm or intrigue, he is more than happy to keep them alive and kicking, yet, the situation could be tricky, since it is all up to his caprice, that is one major reason that we must secure strict firearm regulations within ours human societies, as you never know, when and where those dangerous types would pop up and take down innocents as his easy target.

Holly evinces the symptoms of another mental defect, not hazardous to others (judging by the film at least), she is Kit minus his violent proclivity, no killing is engendered under her command, but under a more haunting note, she can cause more reprehension because of her sex, a tender, harmless girl like her, how can she condones Kit’s bloodshed and goes along with it? She is unwontedly unperturbed by the act of killing, as if she has no idea of what death means, what enormous pain can be originated from death-inducing gun-shots, she is wanting a moral conscience which others possess innately, and Malick ascertains that with an uncannily perverse segment when Holly chitchats with Cato (Bieri), Kit’s friend from garbage work, who is shot by Kit in the stomach and is lingering with his last breath, Spacek, in her only sophomore motion picture, exhibits an otherworldly indifference, which dissipates any subjective judgement, as an impressionable girl on the cusp of adolescence. She has no trepidation to terminate their escapade from a pistol-wielding Kit, is she confident enough about their love, or simply it never occurs to her that she might be the next victim? Martin Sheen, on the other hand, is unrestrained in his James Dean impression, less refined, but an admirable job nevertheless. In the running time around 90 minutes, BADLANDS is significantly shorter than Malick’s future works, and there is something blank and dissatisfying in presenting the ill-fated pair’s relationship, yet, as time would prove, narrative in not Malick’s métier.

In retrospect, no today’s first-time viewer will take aback by the breathtaking beauty of the scenery as it first came out in 1973, but still it is enthralling to witness such a consistent working ethic has already been mined with such refinement in the onset of his career. Equally astonishing is its use of Carl Orff’s compositions from Schulwerk, imposes a lofty invasion of portentousness onto the pastoral milieu where the cold-blooded act insidiously lurks. In today’s view, BADLANDS comes through the test of time as a more level-headed and artistically uniform forebear of Oliver Stone’s Quentin Tarantino-penned NATURAL BORN KILLER (1994), and certainly a less impenetrable piece among Malick’s forbidding body of work, which has become increasingly divisive among cinephiles after his arguable pinnacle of THE TREE OF LIFE (2011).

Badlands 1973

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