Directed by Terrence Malick
Expectations: Low, but very curious.
Badlands may be the debut film of Terrence Malick, but it was much closer to a modern Malick film than I had expected. It’s not quite so experimental and detached as either The Tree of Life or The Thin Red Line, but it is pretty damn experimental and detached. It defies genre classification because where you might expect a thrilling cross-country chase, Malick instead chooses to have his characters sit around a lot, enjoying nature and reading the paper. That’s OK, all films don’t have to be similar and derivative, but it does make Badlands a bit baffling from a traditional narrative standpoint. Finally seeing it sheds some light on why many are so obsessed with Malick, though; he’s one of the most singular and unique filmmakers ever to play the game. I give him credit for knowing exactly what he wants and being able to deliver it, but I can’t say that I enjoy the end results all that much.
This is easily the most narrative-driven Malick film I’ve seen, but it’s doesn’t exactly feel narrative driven. Things happen, leading to other things happening, but where that would traditionally constitute a plot, in Badlands it doesn’t really. It’s much more organic and free-flowing, like a dreamy slice of life, playing out almost like a tortured, realistic fantasy. The basics are that a 15-year-old girl named Holly (Sissy Spacek) lives with her distant father that never really loved her (or at least never showed it much). One day she meets a 25-year-old ruffian, Kit (Martin Sheen), who sweeps her off her feet with his bad-boy charm and his cool car. They manage to sneak around without her father knowing for a while, but when he does find out, he doesn’t take too kindly to it. One thing leads to another, and soon Kit and Holly are racing down the road in search of a place to hideout and get away from it all.
But I digress, because like I said, Badlands isn’t about the specific plot points. So what is it about? The characters would be the next obvious choice, but I can’t rightly say that’s the focus either because there isn’t much depth in either of our leads. Holly is a girl looking for a father figure, so she sticks with her man Kit even though he’s crazy. She pretty much says so herself in one of her many narrations. And Kit is the kind of guy who’s always had a hard life, and living in a small, quiet town has gotten to him over the years. When he finally found someone he loved, he was willing to fight for it with all his might, no matter what it took. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for either character. For all the praise this one has received over the years, I found it to be a pretty disappointing film.
I can respect Badlands for what it is, and what it does right, but I can’t say that I liked it. It is easily my “favorite” of the three Malick films I’ve seen, though, and I am definitely intrigued enough to seek out Malick’s second film, Days of Heaven. I don’t know that I will ever come around to liking Malick, but that’s OK… it takes all kinds of people in this world, and I’m glad Malick is still out there doin’ his thing all these years later.
Badlands was a part of the 2013 Blind Spot Series where I see one movie a month that I feel I should’ve seen a long time ago. It’s all the brainchild of Ryan McNeil over at The Matinee, one of the web’s premiere film blogs. Head over there tomorrow where he’ll have a post of his own for the series, as well as links to all the other people taking part in the series.