All Things Shining, Pt 1

The films of Terrence Malick: Badlands
by Matt Zoller Seitz  posted May 10, 2011
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Terrence Malick's 1973 directorial debut Badlands re-imagines the 1959 Charles Starkweather-Caril Fugate murder spree as a lovers-on-the-run movie, but with an unusually sophisticated, at times confounding style. The preening twentysomething garbage man Kit (Martin Sheen) and his naive 15-year old lover, Holly (Sissy Spacek) travel around the north central United States, hiding from lawmen, shooting random citizens, living off the land, and carrying on like scrappy newlyweds. Holly narrates their progress in a florid, girlish voice-over that works at cross-purposes with the story, at first presenting a false, rosy view of the relationship, then allowing moments of doubt, fear, and depression to creep into the margins; yet we are always keenly aware that neither Kit nor Holly is smart or wise enough to grasp the awful magnitude of their actions.

The seeds of Malick's often imitated, never equaled style are plain to see—not just the contrapuntal narration, but also the quasi-documentary camerawork, the limpid and free-associative editing, and the soundtrack's mix of nostalgic pop and off-kilter classical music. Chapter One of "All Things Shining: The Films of Terrence Malick" focuses exclusively on Malick's breakthrough film; future installments will examine Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005). The series is produced in conjunction with the Museum of Moving Image's Terrence Malick film series, which runs May 13-15. 

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Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in Badlands, directed by Terrence Malick
Video: Badlands

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THE AUTHOR

Matt Zoller Seitz is a writer and filmmaker whose debut feature, the romantic comedy Home, is available through Netflix and Amazon. His writing on film and television has appeared in The New York Times, New York Press, and The Star Ledger, among other places. He is also the founder of The House Next Door, a movie and TV criticism website.

More articles by Matt Zoller Seitz
Author's Website: The House Next Door