An impressionable teenage girl from a dead-end town and her older greaser boyfriend embark on a killing spree in the South Dakota badlands.An impressionable teenage girl from a dead-end town and her older greaser boyfriend embark on a killing spree in the South Dakota badlands.An impressionable teenage girl from a dead-end town and her older greaser boyfriend embark on a killing spree in the South Dakota badlands.
Badlands is not like that. Sure, no-one would really want to be like or spend time with Kit Carruthers (based directly on fifties killer Charles Starkweather). But I was troubled by several aspects of this stunningly put together film. Essentially, it is fine craftsmanship created around a very difficult subject with little exploration of the characters, their motivations or the consequences of their actions. What remains for the viewer but a kind of detached voyeurism?
Cruel and cowardly, Charlie Starkweather was full of self-loathing, believed himself a failure and felt his life was doomed to misery. Murder is a simple act that even the sub-intelligent can commit, but it has staggering consequences. Having killed, Starkweather changed; in a way he grew. He felt himself to have achieved something. It completed the sad story that was his life.
Kit Carruthers, on the other hand, slouches, mumbles and poses throughout Badlands. We know almost nothing of his past. Of course, the narrative follows Holly's point of view, but since she appears to be in a dream and virtually clueless throughout the whole affair, how useful is this narrative method? At the end Kit is pretty much his same inscrutable self as at the beginning, except now he is famous. He's kinda cool and he knows it. When he kills it's as if he has met some unpleasant but important obligation that only he is qualified for. The murders themselves are sterilised, just a bang and the victim quietly lies down. The sets and locations are picturesque, the actors are picturesque, the murders are picturesque...
The 1957 film In Cold Blood is a gripping example of what can be achieved when something of the nature of spree/serial killers is explored, when the consequences of their actions is stark and real, and when the people inside them are glimpsed. (And there are people inside, badly damaged and loathsome, but fascinating.)
- May 5, 2010