Opinion: “Badlands” (1973)

“They wanted to know why I did what I did.

Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”

Bruce Springsteen sang these words in 1982 to end the first single, Nebraska, of the album with the same name, which was based upon the 1973 film Badlands. Badlands was the directorial debut of the now incredibly popular Tarrence Malik and it tells a “Bonny and Clyde”-like story about Holly and Kit. When Kit kills a man in the surroundings of Holly, he decides that they should run away to escape the police. During their escape, they only leave a bigger trail of havoc.

Terrence Malik’s background in philosophy can certainly be seen in the poetic and beautiful cinematography. Each shot has a purpose and each shot has a hidden meaning. Especially the last shot, which asks us to think about our purpose in life, a recurring theme in Malik’s films, and how little we are in the cosmos. It’s always interesting when a film has you thinking about it after it’s stopped and it shows that the film’s more than just entertainment value.


Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in “Badlands” –  1973


What I really liked in the film where the characters and how Malick portrayed them. Malick introduced us to Holly and Kit, the former fifteen and the latter twenty-five, who are both extremely naive in their daily life. The director was really able to capture that nativity due to numerous things. They both don’t see what’s wrong with killing, but we can see that Kit has some idea or at least a tiny voice in his head that says that it is but the playfulness and the child in him suppresses that feeling. He manipulates the very influential Holly into believing that there’s nothing wrong with it as well. The fact that Holly asked Kit “Will he be okay?” after they’d made their first victim, only enforces that she doesn’t understand murder, that she doesn’t understand death. It creates a very unsettling tone, which really fitted the movie.

The voiceovers do that exact thing as well. Voiceovers are often seen as something bad. Filmmakers always encourage other filmmakers to avoid voiceovers, because it’s lazy storytelling. They want you to explain the story visually rather than tell it verbally. In Terrence Malik’s film, the overlaying voice isn’t there to tell you mv5bmdcxnjhiotetmzq0ys00otbhltkxm2qtn2uyzdmznziznwflxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_unnecessary information. It’s not there to drive the story forward, it’s there to put us in the head of Holly. it’s like another layer of his film. It isn’t lazy, it’s part of the poetry. But the really brilliant part of the voiceovers in this film was how well it portrayed the naivety of Holly in particular. The childlike score playing in the background as her soft voice speaks about Kit and the things they’ve done stands opposite of the dark nature of the things they’ve done.  Contrast is also a big thing in this film, which gave the movie an unsettling, but special tone. After a dark murderous spree, we’d get a nice and sweet voice-over accompanied by beautiful nature shots.

But to have all of the previous things work, you’ll need a very well acted film. And damn was this film well acted. Martin Sheen, father of Charlie Sheen who by the way very much look alike, played Kit masterfully. Kit’s a very complex character, who has a lot going on behind what’s told, yet he managed to capture the character brilliantly. Badlands was also one of the first movies of the now well-known Sissy Spacek, who, in my opinion, was the star of the film. She was able to encapsulate the naive aspect of her character, that I’ve talked about quite a bit, really well.

In the end, Badlands was an amazing movie that’ll leave you thinking when the movie has stopped. It brings up some thought-provoking questions and was masterfully directed, together with some fantastic acting and subliminal use of voice-overs. That’s why this film gets an A+.

Images via: IMDb, Tumblr

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