Terrence Malick, 1973

The subject of lovers-on-the-run has been a long standing theme in film for over 70 years, from Louis King's Persons in Hiding in 1939, to David Lynch's Wild at Heart in 1990, with the standard plot consisting of a young fugitive couple, fleeing from the law, and condemning themselves to a life a crime and death on the road. In 1973, six years after the release of the immensely popular Bonnie and Clyde, Terrence Malick directed his début feature Badlands, a film that was also based on real events, more specifically, the Charles Starkweather murder spree of 1958. The film follows Holly (Sissy Spacek) a teenage girl living in a small Midwestern town, as she meets and falls in love with Kit (Martin Sheen), and becomes his accomplice as he commits a series of murders whilst travelling across the country, with police in pursuit. Holly acts as narrator, giving an innocent tone to the film that brilliantly contrasts with the harsh string of killings committed by her lover, with her nonchalant account of events and stories being read as if from a diary. 

Martin sheen's performance as Kit is far more in depth and brilliantly crafted than he has recieved credit for, exploring behavioral characteristics that precede his homicides, which reveal Kit's apparent sociopathic mannerisms such as megalomania, lack of remorse and cruelty to animals, traits which are infamous in the field of psychiatristy as early indications of psychopathy. Kit and Holly's detachment and cold manner towards the preceedings are far more chilling than any outburst of rage that is standard in numerous other movies, with Holly so seperated from reality at the hands of her lover, that she feels no remorse for the murders she witnesses. The movie creates a spellbinding chemistry between the two, juxtaposing the childlike innocence of Holly, with the reserved attitude of Sheen's persona. Kit's apathetic and emotionless state acts as a precursor for Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, a character also swamped with delusion and paranoia, predating De Niro's performance by almost 3 years. 

Badland's influence on pop culture over the past 30 years is evident, using the romantic story of two anti-heroes driving across America as inspiration to everything from Thelma and Louise, to Bruce Springsteen. Quentin Tarantino's two screenplays for Natural Born Killers and True Romance feature similar story lines to Badlands, with the latter even mimicking a similar light, xylophone composition, but whereas Badlands uses this to affect, blending the score with Holly's childlike narration to create the illusion that this may be taking place in her head, True Romance uses it lavishly, making it seem out of place with the themes of the film. Although the film may have been interpreted into, or inspired various works over the years, Badlands remains as not only a phenomenal directorial début, but as one of the most significant films to be released in a period that is considered to be the height of film making.
words by danny walker.