Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)

Friday, August 18, 2017 - 21:00 to 22:30


One day, while taking a look at some vistas in Dad’s stereopticon, it hit me that I was just this little girl, born in Texas, whose father was a sign painter, who only had just so many years to live. It sent a chill down my spine and I thought where would I be this very moment, if Kit had never met me? Or killed anybody... this very moment... if my mom had never met my dad... if she had never died. And what’s the man I’ll marry gonna look like? What’s he doing right this minute? Is he thinking about me now, by some coincidence, even though he doesn’t know me? Does it show on his face? For days afterwards I lived in dread. Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, and this never happened.

Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) in Badlands


It’s probably unfashionable to say this, but Terrence Malick’s best film by far remains his 1973 debut. Why his best? I can think of a few reasons.

Jonathan Rosenbaum in his Cinema Scope column


“Hence Malick’s love for filming the horizon and placing it in the dead middle of the frame: the horizon – which is nothing real or solid or material in itself, not even a thin line – bisects the world in two, into the non-communicating vessels of land or sea and sky. Jean Douchet intuited this system from the first moments of Badlands: the story, with its tiny, unformed characters, is always poised precariously between a cosmic realm and an earthly one, but no correspondence between these realms ever occurs, no hierarchy of cause and effect ever begins to coalesce.”

From Adrian Martin’s text ‘Things to Look Into: The Cinema of Terrence Malick’ 


Badlands is the Bonnie-Clyde bloodbath done without emotions or reactions, plus a suave, painterly image (the visuals resemble postcards with the color printed twice) that bespeaks a near-comatose Dakota life. The lethargy of S. Dakotans is joined with a girl’s (Sissy Spaced) deadpan, rosy-sided diary on the soundtrack. It takes this bloodless chick eight murders to figure her ex-garbage slinger with Nat Cole in his heart as not only “trigger happy”, but, in fact, “the hell-bent type.” “Hi, we’re on the run, we’d like to hide out here for a few hours.” A frozen-with-fear rich man, a paper doll chastized by gentility, says: “Of course, go right ahead.” Holly, educated on fan mags and pop lyrics, tours the man’s gothic mansion, determined to normalize pure terror. Meanwhile, her industrious lover (he was the handsomest boy I ever saw . . . he looked just like James Dean), always on the prowl between emotionless murders for useful items, has dug up a silver loving cup, an old football and a dictaphone for some studious Norman P. Veale messages for straightening potential Dakotan screwups: “Listen to your parents. They usually know best. Don’t look down on the minority opinion, keep an open mind. But when the minority becomes a majority opinion, pay attention to it.”

Read what else Manny Farber wrote on Badlands here


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