Badlands (1973)

10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Smart, influential movie


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Badlands

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Genre(s):  Drama/Romance

Release Date(s):  October 15, 1973

MPAA Rating:  PG

badlands holly meets kit sissy spacek martin sheen

You’re cute…want to go on a killing spree?

Fifteen-year-old Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) has met someone who seems to do nothing but care for her.  Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) is a garbage man with no direction and takes the future as it comes.  When Holly’s father (Warren Oates) separates her from Kit, Kit comes to take her back…and will murder to do it.  Now Kit and Holly are on the run…hiding in the forest and stealing cars, and Kit isn’t afraid to kill to keep running.  Kit and Holly, however, are living on borrowed time.  The law is catching up and the hopes of fleeing to the Badlands or into the mountains is beginning to seem unlikely.

Directed by Terrence Malick, Badlands is a dramatic crime thriller.  The film premiered at the New York Film Festival to much acclaim and fanfare.  The film is loosely based on the crime spree of Charles Starkweather (November 24, 1938-June 25, 1959) and Caril Ann Fugate (July 30, 1943) in 1958.  The film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1993.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #651).

badlands love is strange dance kit holly martin sheen sissy spacek

Love is strange…

Terrence Malick explodes on to the scene with Badlands.  What could be a normal crime thriller becomes a strange existential trip into the world of two criminals.  I think Badlands was the first Malick movie I saw and I was hooked.  Badlands continues to be one of the great crime films.

The movie is from the perspective of Holly.  Caril Ann Fugate’s role in the crimes was debated (she was released from prison in 1976) and here Spacek is almost an observer suffering from shock through most of the film.  Her life is turned upside down, but it was already in a tender state due to the lack of love from her father (which made her an easy target of Kit).  Malick mixes the narration and thoughts with visions of the open land that birthed the two characters.  It is sometimes brutal but it is balanced by the fairy tale like world the two characters live in.

badlands holly kit sissy spacek martin sheen

I’ll give you anything I can take with a gun

Both Sheen and Spacek are fantastic.  Sheen was older than Malick wanted, but he has a cooler than cool vibe to him (Kit is trying to channel James Dean).  Spacek was a lot older than the character she was playing but she brings an innocence to her with her wide eyes (much like she brings to Carrie White in Carrie).  The movie features an appearance by Warren Oates and Ramon Bieri though the film really just revolves around the two stars.  Charlie Sheen’s sons Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez made their screen debut in the film as the children sitting under a light post in a scene, and Malik shows up as the caller at the home where Kit and Holly have taken a man and his maid hostage.

badlands south dakota holly kit sissy spacek martin sheen

Oh, the places you’ll go

While the story is ethereal, the style of the film makes it even more dreamlike all with the tune of Carl Orff’s “Gaussenhauer” providing the soundtrack with a childlike feel that comes with it.  The two characters live in a fantasy world complete with forts and a perfect world that ignores the horror around them (even though they sleep together, they feel more like little kids).  There is a beauty to the crime and murder.  This is further increased considering the film is considered PG due to early rating systems…the film probably wouldn’t even get a PG-13 today just because of the subject matter and look.

Badlands is a great film that shouldn’t be missed.  It is short and poignant.  In a world of killing and death, it is a strange surreal experiment in violence (the Zodiac Killer actually referenced the flippant nature of how advertising for the film handled the violence in one of his letters).  The movie has had a lot of influence on other films including Moonrise Kingdom which has a sequence that is an homage to movie…but like with many movies see the foundation and seek out Badlands first.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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