BADLANDS | Dir. Terrence Malick | 1974 | 94 min
The time is late summer at the end of the 1950's and the place a small, placid town in South Dakota. The streets are lined with oak and maple trees in full leaf. The lawns are so neat, so close-cropped, they look crew-cut. Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) is twenty-five, a garbage collector who fancies his cowboy boots and his faint resemblance to James Dean. Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) is fifteen. Until she meets Kit, she hasn't much interest in anything except her dog and her baton, which she practices twirling in her front yard.
In Terrence Malick's cool, sometimes brilliant, always ferociously American film, Badlands, which marks Malick's debut as a director, Kit and Holly take an all-American joyride across the upper Middle West, at the end of which more than half a dozen people have been shot to death by Kit, usually at point-blank range.
Badlands was presented twice at Alice Tully Hall Saturday night, the closing feature of the 11th New York Film Festival that began so auspiciously with François Truffaut's Day for Night. In between there were a lot of other films, good and bad, but none as provocative as this first feature by Malick, a twenty-nine-year-old former Rhodes Scholar and philosophy student whose only other film credit is as the author of the screenplay for last year's nicely idiosyncratic Pocket Money.
Badlands was inspired by the short, bloody saga of Charles Starkweather who, at age nineteen, in January, 1958, with the apparent cooperation of his fourteen-year-old girlfriend, Caril Fugate, went off on a murder spree that resulted in ten victims. Starkweather was later executed in the electric chair and Miss Fugate given life imprisonment.
Badlands inevitably invites comparisons with three other important American films, Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde and Fritz Lang's Fury and You Only Live Once, but it has a very different vision of violence and death. Malick spends no great amount of time invoking Freud to explain the behavior of Kit and Holly, nor is there any Depression to be held ultimately responsible. Society is, if anything, benign. READ MORE - The New York Times
*Originally published: October 15, 1973
1975 BAFTA AWARDS - NOMINATION (BAFTA Film Award, Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles | Sissy Spacek)
1974 SAN SEBASTIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - (Golden Seashell | Terrence Malick, Prize San Sebastián, Best Actor | Martin Sheen)
1993 USA FILM PRESERVATION BOARD - WINNER (National Film Registry)
Badlands is the third selection in our FOCUS: LANDSCAPES series.