Debuts Blogathon: Terrence Malick – Badlands (1973)

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Welcome to Day 2 of the ‘Debuts’ Blogathon, jointly run by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop. Today’s entry is provided by Charles at Cinematic. This is one of the first blogs I followed and it remains one of the best out there. As well as sterling reviews, this great blog asks some fascinating questions that genuinely make you think. Do yourself a favour and give it a try.

Terrence Malick

Badlands (1973)

BadlandsIn his forty-year career, Terrence Malick has stood as one of cinema’s bravest, boldest directors. The filmmaker often approaches his subjects with such a poetic manner that his movies communicate and speak to me in such a way few films can. Malick’s serene imagery has defined all of his movies, and his most recent movies strongly exemplify this trait.

The director’s debut, Badlands, may not be as ambiguous as The Tree of Life or To The Wonder, but it’s one of Malick’s finest efforts and a pivotal moment in the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s.

kobal_badlands460Badlands is inspired by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who went on a killing spree in 1958 with 11 victims, including Caril’s father. The film revolves around two characters. Kit (Martin Sheen) is based on Charles Starkweather. He is 25-years-old, collects the garbage for work, and wears a James Dean-like outfit, symbolising his rebellious spirit.  Holly (Sissy Spacek) takes Caril’s place. She’s only 15; a lonely freckled schoolgirl who also narrates the story.

The two first meet out on the street while Holly is twirling a baton. Kit approaches her and talks to her a bit, telling her he just left his job as a garbage man. Holly looks at him and falls in love with him and soon the two embark on a romance.

BadlandsThe love between a 25-year-old and a schoolgirl may be a bit disturbing, but Malick assures the audience that this relationship is not sexual. Rather, he connects how these two different characters are much alike. They are shunned by society and don’t know how to react.

Within the first 20 minutes, Kit shoots Holly’s father (played by Warren Oates), an action that has severe repercussions that reverberate throughout the rest of the film. Kit burns down Holly’s house and soon the two run away into the woods, hoping to disappear and find a new life. But as more and more people run into their way, the bodies start piling up, which threatens the relationship between Holly and Kit.

BadlandsBadlands has a similar story to Bonnie and Clyde, another pivotal film in the New Hollywood age. But Bonnie and Clyde focused on the two eponymous characters’ crimes and the outside world’s reaction, while Badlands shows some indication of the pedestrian perspective, particularly at the end, and it’s really about how Kit and Holly react to their victims. Malick takes a unique perspective and portrays the duo as a lost, innocent couple who seem ignorant of the world around them. In the pivotal scene where Kit shoots Holly’s father, Holly really doesn’t know what to do afterwards. She slaps Kit out of anger but still follows him like a blind puppy, as she does throughout the rest of the film. Kit, on the other hand, possesses little awareness on the vileness of his crimes. He does not seem pleased or angry about his killings, but sees it as a needed action. After shooting a few men who were following him and Holly into the woods, he argues: “I killed them because they was bounty hunters who wanted the reward money. If they was policemen, just being paid for doing their job, that would have been different.” Kit’s lack of remorse towards his victims defines the detached attitude of the film. Like Bonny and Clyde, Holly and Kit are lost, rejected souls but, unlike them, Holly and Kit don’t seem to have an urge to rejoin society. And while Bonny and Clyde is a great movie, I would argue that Badlands is a stronger, more confident film.

BadlandsWhile Badlands is a narrative-based film and not quite as surreal as Malick’s other pictures, it sets up many common and recurring traits that have defined the director’s style. Malick’s love of nature is evident here, as he presents clear, pristine, and beautiful images, be they bugs climbing through leaves or flowers bustling through the wind. He also utilizes voiceover to describe Holly’s inner emotions and thoughts, which become more direct into introducing plot elements than what his later films do. With many of the Malickian elements toned down, Badlands may be the director’s most accessible piece.

BadlandsWhile my favorite Malick movie is The Tree of Life, Badlands is certainly a highlight in the director’s filmography. Coincidently, the film debuted in the New York Film Festival in 1973, which also featured the breakthrough from one of cinema’s best directors: Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. While both movies share different stories, both show two great filmmakers providing viewpoints on American society.

Editor’s Note: The Debut blogathon gave me a good excuse to buy the new Criterion Blu-ray of Badlands, which was approved by Malick himself.  The restoration is top-notch and the disc is loaded with some great extra features, including a documentary about the making of the film.  It is well worth the price and one of the best Criterion sets I won.

Head on over to Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop where Isaac from The IPC is covering Jodie Foster’s 1991 debut Little Man Tate. Get yourself over there now!

Check back tomorrow, where Ewan at Ewan at the Cinema will be covering Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 classic Breathless (À bout de souffle).


  1. Three Rows Back · September 3, 2013

    Thank you again Charles. A great post covering one of my favourite films.

    • ckckred · September 3, 2013

      Thanks! Badlands is one of my favorites as well.

  2. Pingback: Debuts Blogathon: Jodie Foster – Little Man Tate | Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop
  3. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · September 3, 2013

    Reblogged this on Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop.

  4. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · September 3, 2013

    Superb post Charles! I’ve only seen The Tree of Life of Malick’s work and I still have absolutely no idea how I felt about that! I do want to check out more of his films now though.

    • Three Rows Back · September 3, 2013

      Chris. You need to remedy that right now!

    • ckckred · September 3, 2013

      Thanks! I recommend checking out this, it’s probably Malick’s most accessible film.

  5. Mark Walker · September 3, 2013

    Great write-up, man. As much as I liked Badlands, it’s still my least favourite of Malick’s work. That doesn’t mean a helluva lot, though, considering the man’s filmography has many works of genius. It’s a great introduction to his style, though, that’s for sure.

    • ckckred · September 3, 2013

      Thanks! This is my second favorite Malick film after The Tree of Life, but I haven’t seen a film by him I didn’t love. I agree it is a great introduction to Malick’s style, not quite as surreal but incredibly beautiful.

  6. table9mutant · September 3, 2013

    Great review. 🙂 Very good film although I have to admit that I’ve not seen any of his other films.

    • ckckred · September 3, 2013

      Thanks! This is a great place to start if you haven’t seen any Malick films.

  7. Naomi · September 3, 2013

    This has got to be my least favorite Malick film but yes, definitely a good introduction and it’s wonderful to see the great works that followed after.

  8. ckckred · September 3, 2013

    Reblogged this on Cinematic.

  9. cindybruchman · September 3, 2013

    Awesome post. I did not know Mallick had been around 40 years! Wow! I gotta see Badlands. 🙂

    • ckckred · September 4, 2013

      Thanks! Yeah, it’s a bit surprising, especially since he’s got such a short filmography, though I haven’t seen a bad film from the man.

  10. Pingback: The ‘Debuts’ Blogathon! | Film Police
  11. Nick Powell · September 3, 2013

    I still need to see this. Good review, though and makes me even more excited to track it down.

    • ckckred · September 4, 2013

      Thanks! Criterion released a blu-ray edition recently and it’s one of their best sets.

  12. Popcorn Nights · September 3, 2013

    Nice review. I watched it again a year or two ago … a superb debut.

    • ckckred · September 4, 2013

      Thanks! It is a great debut and it’s one of Malick’s best.

  13. Tyson Carter · September 3, 2013

    Great write up matey. Nice to see this project coming along nicely 🙂

  14. whirlwind.supernova · September 4, 2013

    Great review! I’ve only been familiar with his recent works, but definitely going to check this out.

  15. karamelkinema · September 4, 2013

    I think i need to catch up with older Malick works, and the premise sounds interesting though, i wonder how Malick approach the theme.

  16. Pingback: Debuts Blogathon Wrap Up | Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop


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