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Badlands (1973) starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek

Synopsis of Badlands

Kit Carruthers, a young garbage collector and his girlfriend Holly Sargis from Fort Dupree, South Dakota, are on the run after killing Holly’s father who disagreed with their relationship.

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Badlands is a very different movie, following the murder spree of a very different villainous couple in the 1950’s. Kit (Martin Sheen) plays a 25-year-old garbage man, who tries to start a relationship with 15-year-old Holly (Sissy Spacek). Kit is a strange individual, almost unemotional – but not quite. He murders Holly’s father when the man tries to prevent Holly from running away with Kit. Holly is a strange match for Kit. After cold-bloodedly murdering her father in front of her eyes, she slaps Kit in the face. That’s her only reaction. And then decides to run away with him. And then the killings begin.

Badlands (1973) starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek

In a very real sense, this short-lived murder spree makes me think of the Joker and Harley Quinn — if it happened in the real world. You have two mentally ill individuals, murdering a variety of individuals, who think that they can outsmart the law. Except that they can’t, and are caught in the Badlands of Montana.

Holly narrates throughout the film, showing little remorse or regret until they’re caught. It’s an interesting film, loosely based on actual events in the late 1950’s. Unlike Bonnie and Clyde, the film doesn’t try to present them as heroes. The director simply presents them and lets the audience make their own decisions. I rate it 3 stars out of 5.

Editorial review of Badlands courtesy of Amazon.com

 Still one of American cinema’s most powerful, daring filmmaking debuts, Terrence Malick’s Badlands is a quirky, visionary psychological and social enigma masquerading as a simple lovers-on-the-lam flick. Inspired by the 1958 murders in the cold, stark badlands of South Dakota by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, the film’s plot, on the surface, is similar to that of other killing-couple films, like Bonnie and Clyde and Gun Crazy. Martin Sheen, in an understated, sophisticated performance, plays the strange James Dean-like social outcast who falls in love with the naïve Sissy Spacek — and then kills her father when he comes between them. The two flee like animals to the wilderness, until the police arrive and the killing spree begins.

What sets the film apart from others of its genre is Malick’s complicated approach. Gorgeous, impenetrable images contrast sharply with Spacek’s nostalgically artless narration, serving as ironic counterpoints, blurring concrete meaning, and stressing that nothing this horrific is simple. Malick observes, rather than analyzes, the couple in a manner as detached and apathetic as the couple’s shocking actions. No judgment or definitive motivations are offered, though Malick’s empathy often leans toward his senseless protagonists, rather than the star-struck society that makes killers famous. Compared with the interchangeable uniform cops who hunt them and the film’s other nameless characters stuck in suburban banality, the couple are presented like tarnished, warped and frustrated results of squelched individuality.

Badlands, on one level, views America’s suffocating homogeneity and, conversely, its continued obsession with celebrities (individuals considered different but adored) as hypocritical. Ambiguous and bold, the movie hints that society may be as guilty as the killers. –Dave McCoy


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