Film Review: Badlands (1973)
Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek
Terrence Malick is often criticized for his stylistic choices and lack of depth in his films, especially in those that came after The Thin Red Line. But his debut feature film, Badlands, was universally acclaimed and catapulted him into a mythical sphere of filmmakers. The film follows Kit and Holly, a young couple on the run from authorities in South Dakota. Kit is 25-years-old and works as a garbage collector. He’s troubled, aggressive, and has looks reminiscent of James Dean. Holly is a 15-year-old girl who loves baton twirling. Her meditative narration throughout the film reflects her feelings of loneliness and neglection from her father. Their relationship begins as youthfully wholesome and innocent, but is then tested when they are caught in a murder spree. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek star in the film, giving performances that are ingrained in American cinema’s youth culture. Malick’s admiration for nature is in full display throughout the film and serves as the backdrop of the characters. These beautifully shot landscapes serve as a reminder of the vastness of nature and help make apparent the smallness of human issues. This is a recurring theme through Malick’s filmography, but Badlands has never been bested.
Badlands is beginning to have a resurgence in popularity due to loyal followers of The Criterion Collection. Badlands’ significance is only marred by its relative obscurity and with a wider audience, I believe it will get the recognition it truly deserves. I’m in belief that if the film was more widely popular then it would a staple in every high school in America. It goes through the ugliness and vulnerability of youth culture, America’s fetishization of violence, and is a masterclass in auteur theory. Badlands is a cinematic landmark and the embodiment of American New Wave.