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Story

Still one of American cinema's most powerful, daring filmmaking debuts, Terrence Malick's Badlands is a quirky, visionary psychological and social enigma masquerading as a simple lovers-on-the-lam flick. Inspired by the 1958 murders in the cold, stark badlands of South Dakota by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, the film's plot, on the surface, is similar to that of other killing-couple films, like Bonnie and Clyde and Gun Crazy. Martin Sheen, in an understated, sophisticated performance, plays the strange James Dean-like social outcast who falls in love with the naïve Sissy Spacek--and then kills her father when he comes between them. The two flee like animals to the wilderness, until the police arrive and the killing spree begins.

What sets the film apart from others of its genre is Malick's complicated approach. Gorgeous, impenetrable images contrast sharply with Spacek's nostalgically artless narration, serving as ironic counterpoints, blurring concrete meaning, and stressing that nothing this horrific is simple. Malick observes, rather than analyzes, the couple in a manner as detached and apathetic as the couple's shocking actions. No judgment or definitive motivations are offered, though Malick's empathy often leans toward his senseless protagonists, rather than the star-struck society that makes killers famous. Compared with the interchangeable uniform cops who hunt them and the film's other nameless characters stuck in suburban banality, the couple are presented like tarnished, warped and frustrated results of squelched individuality.

Badlands, on one level, views America's suffocating homogeneity and, conversely, its continued obsession with celebrities (individuals considered different but adored) as hypocritical. Ambiguous and bold, the movie hints that society may be as guilty as the killers. --Dave McCoy

DVD Features

  • Color
  • Closed-captioned
  • Widescreen

Cast

Martin SheenKit
Sissy SpacekHolly
Warren OatesFather
Ramon BieriCato
Alan VintDeputy
Gary LittlejohnSheriff
John CarterRich Man
Bryan MontgomeryBoy
Gail ThrelkeldGirl
Charles FitzpatrickClerk
Howard RagsdaleBoss
John Womack Jr.Trooper
Dona BaldwinMaid
Ben BravoGas Attendant
Emilio EstevezBoy Under Lamppost (uncredited)
Terrence MalickCaller at Rich Man's House (uncredited)
Charlie SheenBoy Under Lamppost (uncredited)

  • Genre: Drama Movies
  • Director: Terrence Malick
  • Producer: Warner Brothers
  • Length: 95 min
  • Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
  • Theatrical Release
    North AmericaJan 1, 1973
  • Ratings
    North AmericaPG
    Europe18
    AustraliaPG
  • Blu-ray Release
    North AmericaMar 19, 2013
  • DVD Release
    North AmericaApr 27, 1999
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