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BADLANDS

Director: TERRENCE MALICK

U.S.A. • 1973 • COLOUR • 94 MIN


BY TURNS PASTORAL AND PATHOLOGICAL IN MOOD AND THEME, BADLANDS (NOW RE-RELEASED IN A NEW PRINT) WAS THE REMARKABLE FEATURE DEBUT OF ONE OF THE TRUE ORIGINALS OF MODERN CINEMA, TERRENCE MALICK.
Based on real-life events in the 1950s, it tells the tale of a James Dean lookalike, Kit (Martin Sheen), who goes on a killing spree that will end in the Badlands of Montana. His story is lovingly recorded in her journal by his freckle-faced teenage companion, Holly (Sissy Spacek), whose inconsequential, sometimes tender commentary is disquietingly at odds with Kit’s brutal progress. Malick described Holly as ‘an innocent in a drama over her head’ and Kit as a boy who ‘fell into bad soil and grew up like a big poisonous weed.’ At one moment Kit and Holly dance to the strains of the song ‘Love is Strange’. With the film’s action filtered through a child-like, even fairytale vision, augmented by breathtaking photography and music, Malick sustains a feeling of estrangement. No moral judgment is offered: murder, madness and the making of myth are allowed simply to unfold before us. The film’s tension comes from its tone; even acts of destruction (for example, the burning of the house after the murder of Holly’s father) have an eerie splendour. This is a haunting pilgrimage across the physical and emotional landscape of a troubled America and one of the landmark films of the ’70s. Malick himself appears in a cameo as an unexpected caller at the house of a rich man under threat: an unnerving moment in a film that never does the expected. — Neil Sinyard.

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