Badlands Screen 7 articles

Badlands

1973

Badlands Poster
  • Malick marries a self-policing use of lyricism (sunsets as painterly as Monet’s, a revolver fired into a placid lake) with continuous dissociations of narration ("We had our bad moments ... at times I wished he'd fall in the river and drown, so I could watch"), dialogue ("What a nice place." "The tree makes it nice." "And the flowers. Let’s not pick ‘em"), and music (Orloff’s "Musica Poetica" over a burning house, Satie and "Love Is Strange," Nat "King" Cole in the darkness).

  • Terrence Malick's first feature film remains as opaque and seductive as it must have been for audiences upon its release in 1973; none of the four films he's made in the intervening 38 years has given us a Rosetta Stone to de-code his unique language of deadpan narration, breathless romance, horror, and whispering tall-grass.

  • One of the glories of Badlands, brightening over time, is the absolute rightness of the casting: Martin Sheen as the laconic killer, Sissy Spacek as the scrawny schoolgirl who considers him “handsomer than anybody I’d ever met.” Neither actor had shouldered a leading role before; they look endearingly young, and everything about their movements and mannerisms... feels perfectly calibrated, as a great deal of the film’s unsettling power derives from the characters’ sustained earnestness and charm.

  • Badlands can't be classified a historical document awaiting some kind of cultural preservation or renewed interest. It's the beloved little sister in a family teeming with geniuses, yet it's unfortunate that so few critics are compelled to call to attention to her sheer timelessness and sublime character.

  • In just his first film, Malick displays the unique sensitivity to his character’s inner life—to say nothing of the magnificent outer life of the landscape around her—that has made him a singular filmmaker. His visual poetry has the effect of extracting the pulp while heightening the horror.

  • I’ve now seen Malick’s first film, a masterpiece, so many times that it’s permanently embedded in my brain and it twists inside my grey matter with images and impressions from countless viewings, including my own unreliable recollection at 13. The movie is so special, so enchanted, so truly transcendent that it clings to your very soul, a palimpsest on the brain.

  • Quietly, [Holly] tells us how she’s feeling—and then, suddenly, how she’s not—yet Malick’s unsentimental images reveal a darker story: crazy, impulsive. Badlands is the American myth of freedom and violence; it doesn’t get old because it remains what we are.

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