BADLANDS - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1973

Director: Terrence Malick

Production: Pressman-Williams Enterprises; CFIC colour, 35mm; running time: 94 minutes.


Producer: Terrence Malick; executive producer: Edward R. Pressman; screenplay: Terrence Malick; assistant directors: John Broderick, Carl Olsen; photography: Tak Fujimoto, Brian Probyn, Stevan Larner; editor: Robert Estrin; associate editor: William Weber; art directors: Jack Fisk, Ed Richardson; sound editor: James Nelson; music: George A. Tipton; costumes: Rosanna Norton.

Cast: Martin Sheen ( Kit Carruthers ); Sissy Spacek ( Holly ); Warren Oates ( Holly's Father ); Ramon Bieri ( Cato ); Alan Vint ( Deputy ); Gary Littlejohn ( Sheriff ); John Carter ( Rich Man ); Bryan Montgomery ( Boy ); Gail Threlkeld ( Girl ).



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* * *

Twenty-eight year old Terrence Malick's sublime debut as writer/producer/director of Badlands , has endured through time to foster admiration from, and satisfaction for, the spectator, as it did upon its release in 1973. Perhaps Malick's career as a philosophy teacher before entering filmmaking provided a foundation to the clarity of his vision in this work.

Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), a garbage collector, meets Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) as he walks past her front lawn. She is practicing baton twirling and is charmed by his apparent worldliness. The banal cynicism of the midwest setting and the sleepy pace are disrupted as Kit murders Holly's father because he disapproves of their relationship.

This is the beginning of Kit's killing spree from South Dakota to finally, the badlands of Montana. Kit ultimately surrenders to the authorities, basking in their admiration of him and his legendary wild man status. Holly has realized that she no longer wants to be around the "hell bent type anymore," and has abandoned Kit just prior to his arrest.

Both repellent and magnetic, Malick draws us into the world of Kit, whose subsequent violent journey is intoned through the sporadic ethereal narration of Holly.

Through the brilliantly droll script we become disassociated from Kit's violence and rather, feel sympathy for the dysfunctional protagonist. This reflects Holly's own journey with Kit and her observation at one point, "The world seemed like a faraway planet." From Holly's father's attempts to keep her away from Kit—"He said if the piano didn't keep me off the streets maybe the clarinet would"—to Holly's reaction to sex—"Gosh, what was everyone talkin' about?"— Malick's writing shines throughout. On second or third viewing of this film the dialogue seems to increase in its hilarity and enunciates Kits and Holly's childlike naivety and stupidity.

Although Malick used three photographers, all with diverse filmic backgrounds, there remains visual fluidity and continuity throughout Badlands . The visual style achieves harmony with the emotional framework, objective, yet intensely intimate. George Tipton's score, with its fairground music quality, reinforces the innocence of the piece whilst underpinning the malevolence of Kit.

Badlands is a masterful work and fully deserves the many accolades that have been awarded to it.

—Marion Pilowsky

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