Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Badlands ~ There is no doubt that the 1950s rampage of spree killer Charles Starkweather changed America. Even Stephen King has talked about how the events in the Midwest affected him and altered his life. Society was changing, youth was changing, and it was bloody.

The movie Badlands, written, directed, and produced by Terrence Malick, tells the Charles Starkweather story from the point of view of the fifteen year old girl who may have been his accomplice or may have been his captive. Played by Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen in perhaps their best performances in my estimation, the two teens are involved in a tragic love story that is less based on fact and more rooted in Malick's vision of life and America of the time. Holly and Kit are some twisted Bonnie and Clyde for whom murder is in the backseat to their awkward love and journey into darkness.

Spacek narrates the film, giving a soft lens love struck version of events, even when we see what actually happens. Even when we know that Kit is a sociopath, Holly writes it off as strangeness or uniqueness with a romantic flair. In some of it however, as in when her father shoots her dog, one has to wonder if she was also disturbed, or a liar. And small part that he has, Warren Oates, who plays her dad, also gives a hell of a performance with few lines.

After killing Holly's father and burning the house to the ground, the two go on the run, but more or less go and live in the woods, getting back to nature, and playing house for a bit. The fairy tale notion of this mirage is broken by a passing truck in the background. The parallels to the hippie movement are apparent, even with Holly's off-kilter narration. In some places here the film mirrors the more artsy portions of Bonnie and Clyde but with more surreality. The haunting carnival score by George Tipton helps that illusion. And in some places it feels like a test run for Apocalypse Now with Martin Sheen.

When men come calling with guns, Kit and Holly are on the run again, more traditionally, in the badlands. Their love story is mirage-like and slow motion, her narration and even Kit's attempts at recording his thoughts lethargic but fascinating. In the end it becomes more seventies car chase than anything else, I guess because it had to, but it feels out of place after what came before.

Still, with all the surreality and illusionary love story, and wishing it was a crime story, I still love this movie, and watch it every time it comes on television, even if it's edited. One of my favorites, recommended, it sure rings the bell.

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