It's the late 1950s. Mid-twenty-something Kit is a restless and unfocused young man with a James Dean vibe and swagger which he has heard mentioned about him more than once. Fifteen year old Holly has a somewhat cold relationship with her sign painter father, if only because she is the primary reminder of his wife, who died of pneumonia when Holly was a child. The two meet when Holly and her father move from Texas to the small town where Kit lives, Fort Dupree, South Dakota. They slowly fall in love, something about which she cannot tell her father because of their age difference and Kit coming from the wrong side of the tracks. When he tries to take Holly away with him, Kit, on an impulse, shoots her father dead. After letting the initial emotions of the situation settle down, Holly decides voluntarily to go with Kit, they trying to make it look like they committed suicide in a house fire. But they soon learn that their plan did not work, there being a bounty on their heads. As such,...Written by
The film's tag line ("In 1959 a lot of people were killing time. Kit and Holly were killing people") inspired the Zodiac Killer, who had been lying low for years, to write a letter to a newspaper denouncing their flippant attitude to violence in society by running such an ad. See more »
At the beginning of the movie, Kit meets Holly after a long day as a garbage man and his white t-shirt is spotless. Kit then asks Holly to take a walk with him, at which point the t-shirt is magically dirty! See more »
[voice over narration]
My Mother dies of pneumonia when I was just a kid. My Father kept their wedding cake in the freezer for ten whole years. After the funeral he gave it to the yard man. He tried to act cheerful but he could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in his house. Then one day hoping to begin a new life away from the scene of all these memories he moved us from Texas to Port Dupree, South Dakota.
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An astonishing film, uncomfortable, bewildering but never less than beautiful. I came away and went straight to my dictionary to look for a definition of 'evil'. My OED uses three words. 'Bad', 'sin' and 'harm'. Neither 'bad' nor 'sin' get a foothold in this morally sterile film. Any impression of wrongdoing is dissolved in Holly's intermittent voice-over, recording Kit's justifications for his actions. All the film is conducted at this remove - even the killings themselves: Kit only uses guns, distancing himself and his impulse from the violence of murder; the victims die silently with little bleeding. Many are shot in the back or out of frame. This way even the idea of 'harm' is removed.
Stripped of a moral framework the film becomes terrifying. The natural inclination is to side with this charming couple falling in love. Then without warning, Kit's unfettered id can lash out with the amplified, impersonalised firearms he carries. The insecurity of whether you're watching the good guys or the bad is as gripping as any individual performance.
That said, Spacek and Sheen are necessarily strong. They have to carry the film, their characters are strangely feral. Untutored, yet modern, Kit's moral framework is gleaned from movie and music personalities (he beams at being called James Dean). In fact I was poleaxed by Sheen's performance, a schizophrenic construction of barbarism and erroneously understood manliness. I'll never watch the awkward energy of Michael J Fox in Back To The Future or Teenwolf in the same way again.
On top of everything Malick films America beautifully. The two senses of Kit's fruitless journey contradict themselves; even the soundtrack oscillates between the aspirational (Nat King Cole) and the bucolic (a capella singing, a marimba). It's so well composed and executed it's possible to feel cut off. It's hard to argue with for a first picture though 8/10
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