Review Rewind: ‘Badlands’

The Movie: “Badlands”

The Year: 1973

The People: Martin Sheen as the charismatic yet subdued murderer Kit Carruthers, Sissy Spacek as the doe-eyed, chronically unsure and unaware Holly Sargis and Terrence Malick as the visionary first-time director.

The Non-Revealing Plot: Kit Carruthers starts a relationship with the noticeably younger, seemingly innocent Holly Sargis. They take a radical approach to dating, leaving society to live on their own, and Kit murdering anyone who dares impede the couple’s attempts at isolated living. The young couple travels between states, starting in South Dakota and making their way up to the Canadian border in Montana.

Unofficial Genre: This movie is a crime-drama focused on the couple’s killing spree, and is filled with poetic musings on the American youth’s misguided idea of personal freedom.

My Opinion (Emotional): As in “Fight Club” (1999), it was hard to be emotionally attached to any of the characters. Though Holly doesn’t murder anyone herself, a mixture of her own passive participation and Kit’s manipulation of her keeps one undecided about how to truly feel about her. At one point in the film, she expresses her deep regret at taking her sick fish out of its bowl and letting it die, but at another she eerily mentions her desire to watch Kit drown.

My Opinion (Technical): Whereas many films nowadays are mainly plot-driven, this one is driven by the two protagonists and what they represent, which is something I found to be extremely refreshing. Kit carries himself in the same laid-back manner with the same cool gait as James Dean’s Jim Stark in “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), and thinks with the same inspired ignorance as Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in The Rye.” Kit’s main schtick is that he wants to live a non-boring life, and he acts like he’s living in a movie to fulfill this desire. Holly is a unique character in that she narrates the film, but she lacks depth, which makes it hard to trust her as a narrator. It becomes clear that this was Malick’s intention for the character, as we begin to understand that she is just like Kit: unsatisfied with life.

The movie captures the “American Spirit” better than any other movie I’ve seen. It doesn’t do this in a preachy, nationalistic sense. However, my favorite aspect of the film is its dialogue and narration. The conversations brilliantly mirror the irregularities of real-life conversations, whereas dramas often only have dialogue if it pushes the plot forward. The only qualm I have is that its pace and editing is dictated by Malick’s method of piecing together vignettes. While this works well for the film’s storytelling, it doesn’t allow for any scenes to be explored deeply, which I generally like to see in movies.

Overall Rating: Because of the film’s genuinely straightforward story, its simple American beauty, and its realistic dialogue, I’d give this film a 9.5/10.

If You Like This, You’ll Also Like: “Rebel Without A Cause” (1955), “Stand By Me” (1986) and “A History of Violence” (2005).


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