100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 96: BADLANDS

by Laurent Kelly

Badlands (1973) – Director: Terrence Malick Screenplay: Terrence Malick Starring: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates OSCAR COUNT (0)


“He wanted to die with me and I dreamed of being lost forever in his arms.”


SYNOPSIS:
A surreal dramatization of a killing spree that took place in the Starkweather-Fugate region in the fifties in which a teenage girl and her much older boyfriend killed members of her family and many others in the Dakota Badlands.

Holly would like for her life to be more like the celebrity gossip articles she devotes her time to – a life filled with twists and turns and adventure, romance and glamour. Ignored by her widowed father she falls for a handsome, aloof and as it turns out completely unstable and psychotic young man named Kit whose company she treasures for the simple reason that he is the only personwho has ever paid her any attention.

In reality the killing spree they embark upon is about as savage and gritty as one would imagine but the film’s stroke of brilliance is that we see these events transpire through the eyes of a naive young woman who coats a romantic edge around a distinctly unromantic chain of events.

In her mind she is on an epic journey of freedom with a man who “looks like James Dean”, and everything is made to look and sound beautiful despite all the death and destruction that takes place around her. This wonderful juxtaposition is emphasised through a superb use of the often unnecesarry and lazy voicoever device in which Holly narrates her story in a manner reminiscent of the celebrity stories she reads.

The cracks begin to show however and it is to Holly’s dismay that Kit turns out not to be the hero that she had anticipated but that she was drawn to him more for the fact that he demonstrated towards her a fondness and affection that had never been made available from her own father. As the reality kicks in what we see and hear becomes a lot more bleak and mundane and it becomes apparent that Holly is suddenly aware of what Kit really is and the consequences of what they have been through together.

Badlands prevails as a spare and beautiful looking film with a cold, disturbing darkness under the surface. This very much represents Holly’s mindset and this exploration of her psyche is masterfully crafted and developed throughout the film.

Through this film I discovered Carl Orf’s wonderful gassenheur composition.


DID YOU KNOW?
Sissy Spacek met future husband Jon Fisk on the set of this film.


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