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September 15, 2009
Badlands is a Terrence Malick flick that stars a very, very young Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen. They are the youngest I have seen either of them in this movie and are nearly unrecognizable. Together, they play an odd pairing of a rebel without a cause named Kit (who's proud of the fact that people think he looks like James Dean) and a teenage girl named Holly, who fall in love with each other. When the Holly's father finds out about their relationship and disapproves, Kit decides to take her away, and the murders start to pile up as the couple run from the law.
Despite the description above, which can sound like any a generic outlaw movie, this one is quite different than it sounds. Holly reminds me of a Bonnie Parker. She watches her boyfriend do all sorts of crazy things and doesn't actually have anything to do with them, but stays along for the ride. And, while the movie does seem to focus on Kit and his unpredictable personality, it's actually from Holly's point of view, which I appreciated. Holly's character is very matter-of-fact and quiet, and while her narration does let us in to hear what she thinks of Kit's actions, sometimes it's still a little bit mysterious.
I just watched an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents where John McGiver plays a man who has lived a completely ordinary, seemingly meaningless life, who becomes obsessed with finding something he can be known for. He reads in the almanac about how large the population is and how many murders there are, and decides that he can be one of the few, and so murders his sister so he can be known for something. It almost feels as if Kit has the same approach, although he may not have started out with those intentions. He kills Holly's father to get her away, but then immediately goes out to make a recording of himself to leave at the scene of the crime, so the world can hear his story. He's somehow able to kill without seeming to feel anything at all about his killings, but moments before or after, he can be a really easy-going guy. This isn't some raging killer. He's more complex than the movies we often see in this genre. When he takes over a man's house and takes a few things, he makes an itemized list of what he "borrowed". And the fact that Holly can watch him and calmly narrate about his actions makes her all the more interesting as well.
It's a strange pairing, and their travels across the country are strange, as well as beautiful. Instead of traveling by roads, they drive through fields, all the way toward the Dakota Badlands. The movie looks amazing and somehow even manages to make the endless fields look beautiful, perhaps even holding promise, even though we know Kit and Holly's story can't end well since Holly tells us so at the beginning of the movie. The music is great too, and may have served as inspiration for the music I always enjoyed in True Romance.
As many people seem to like in Malick, this movie is beautiful while quietly presenting two kinds of demented minds as they are attracted to each other and set off on an inevitable path. The movie does not make judgments - it's pretty obvious that they are flawed, but the movie does present the two as they are and lets the audience interact with them as they will. Even though I am not typically a huge Malick fan, I did like this movie a lot, and it's my favorite of his that I have seen so far.