Saturday, October 1, 2011
The root of the American flavor that's so strong in the works of Terence Malick can be found in Badlands, a road movie that's like a trek through Americana. Badlands isn't so much a representation of classic American ideals (it would be a disgrace if it were) but rather a portrait of a changing landscape. It's the 1950s, but Malick is more interested in that general period of the fifties to the seventies than a specific era. It's the time when young men rebelled and girls began to ignore social norms that started in the fifties and intensified through the next twenty years. The movie starts in a small South Dakota town and relates the adventures of greaser named Kit, played by Martin Sheen, and a fifteen year old school girl named Holly (Sissy Spacek). They meet, fall in love, and go on the run when Kit shoots Holly's dad. These two characters are really interesting. Kit isn't a creation of Malick's, but a rip off of James Dean. This is Malick's intent, as there are at least four references to Dean throughout the film. The best comes when we see him wandering in the fields, his rifle across his shoulders like Christ's crucifixion. There's a famous still shot from Giant of a cut scene in which Dean does the same thing with his gun. But it's not just the references. Kit walks, talks, and acts like Dean, only without the same moral ambiguity. The strange thing about Kit is that he's created a world for himself in which right and wrong simply do not exist. People just do things. He lives in the moment, chooses chance over reason, and takes nothing very seriously. Holly is smart and intelligent, so why does she go off with such a wild and unpredictable fellow? There are two reasons: one, he's James Dean, and running away with him would be fulfilling the fantasies of all the high school girls. Two, her mother is dead, and her father doesn't show enough love. He's too concerned with her well-being and her education. Kit shows her some of the first real love of her life, and as Holly says, she'd rather spend a week in love than a life alone. Malick captures all of this with the maturity of an academic and the beauty of a romantic. The film is always moving. For Kit and Holly, time doesn't seem to exist. Holly is swept into Kit's world where he has power over everything and everyone. Malick wisely disrupts this fantasy with a dose of reality, but we don't feel sad by the ending because no one can ignore society's rules and live by their own.