Tuesday, 12 November 2013


Badlands – Terrence Malick – I had no idea how much of True Romance (1993, dir. Tony Scott) was indebted to, and parodied, Malick’s quietly bizarre and beautiful tale of mismatched runaways. Kit Carruthers is a ‘garbage man’ turned nonchalant killer, played with the blank faced swagger of Martin sheen (strangely reminding me of the reinvented persona of Arctic Monkeys’ frontman: Alex Turner, who seems to have similarly adopted a 50s James Dean chic), Holly, played by a young Sissy Spacek, becomes his eerily unquestioning companion. The story was based on the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree of 1958, in which a fifteen-year-old girl and her twenty-five-year-old boyfriend killed her entire family and several others in the Dakota badlands. 

There is something so enticingly spacious about Malick’s debut (after his short Lanton Mills, 1969), not only the wide-open landscapes but also the conversational dynamics, the narrative’s development and the meandering ambiguity of morality…everything calls out to be re-visited, inhabited and explored. The film, like its stretching roads, fields and desserts, suggests a terrain of freedom, devoid of judgment – but also, hauntingly bereft of reason or certainty. 

The killing, their relationship and the nature of the American landscape are all wide open for the mapping of interpretation. What Malick provides, both in the film’s music and cinematography, is sparsely poetic, contemplative and enduringly resistant to the confines of resolution. What happens to Holly? What really was their relationship? Why was she not more moved by her parent’s death? What even was Kit’s character? Childish psychopath, enamored simpleton, detached delusional, romantic, hero, villain, neither, all? I enjoyed this a lot more than Days of Heaven (which I need to re-watch, as I feel I was somehow in the wrong mood or something) and felt it brilliantly strange, troubling, haunting, comical and mysterious. And…whilst depicting a relationship at its very heart, it remains almost coldly, distanced from decipherable emotion, meanwhile seeming paradoxically saturated with a natural, elemental feeling. A breathing character latent in the landscape which reflects, sometimes compensates and ineffably elaborates the troubled emptiness of Kit and Holly as they travel through its uncharted expanse. 8/10  

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