94 minutes| U.S.A.| 1973| Colour| 35mm

Based on real-life events in the 1950s and by turns pastoral and pathological, Badlands tells of a James Dean look-alike, Kit (Martin Sheen), who goes on a killing spree that will end in the Badlands of Montana. His story is lovingly recounted by his freckle-faced teenage companion Holly (Sissy Spacek), whose inconsequential, sometimes tender commentary is disturbingly at odds with Kit’s brutal progress. Malick described Holly as ‘an innocent in a drama above her head’ and Kit as ‘a boy who fell into bad soil and grew up like a big poisonous weed.’ With the harsh action filtered through a child-like, even fairytale vision, 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. A haunting pilgrimage across the physical and psychological landscape of a troubled America, this is a remarkable feature debut by any criterion and one of the landmark films of the 1970s.

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