Based on the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree of the 1958, in which a fifteen-year-old girl and her twenty-five-year-old boyfriend slaughtered her entire family and several others in the Dakota badlands.
Directed by Terrence Malick
9 out of 10
You can view this film from so many angles that it’s almost impossible to get a clear handle on what Terrence Malick is trying to say. It begs for repeated viewings and a roundtable discussion amongst film lovers. Was Kit using Holly or was Holly using Kit? Did Holly want her father to be killed? Did Kit only kill to further his own fame or was it to truly prolong his experience with Holly?
These are just a few of the multitude of questions I had after the watching the sensational film Badlands. Some would argue that not having clearly defined answers from the characters is a weakness. I, on the other other hand, feel that human beings are not always open ended creatures with clear motivations for our wrong doings. Sometimes we do things for the sake of doing it even when there’s little to no emotional or financial gain. That’s not to say that I related to Kit or Holly in any way but it does mean that I recognize that there are many types of people in the world and I give credit to Malick for not making cookie cutter caricatures. Instead, he decided to make truly three dimensional characters that inspire thought.
The performances throughout are spectacular. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek embody their characters so realistically that there were times that I forgot I was watching a movie. That’s probably the highest praise I can give any actor. There’s one sequence in particular where Kit confronts Holly’s father in his home and the tension escalates after he brandishes a gun. Holly’s father starts to walk away and threaten he’s going to call the police. A less thoughtful film would have Kit run down the stairs and open fire. But, in Badlands, he comes down the stairs, looks him straight in the eye with horror and says, “How about I shoot you? How about that?” He clearly hadn’t made up his mind what he was going to do. In that instant, Kit realizes that this is the point of no return. If he follows through, there’s no going back. It’s that kind of intelligence that made this film so special.
I could go further and explain how beautiful it is photographed or how suspenseful some of the chases are. I could even explain how this film inspired so many couples on the run films like True Romance or Natural Born Killers. But, it’s that element of thoughtfulness and respect for the viewer permeating through the production that makes me recommend this so highly.