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
When Holly is reading to Kit, she reads from Thor Heyerdahl's "The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas", issued in 1948. See more »
When Kit records his confession on a record, he places coins in the machine and then flips the switch from 78 rpm to 45 rpm. The instructions above the switch clearly say "Before Inserting Coins Select Recording Speed." If he were following directions, he would have flipped the switch, then inserted the coins. 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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A very beautiful film; does it have any other purpose?
It has been said that Badlands was in part a reaction to the romanticising of deviance and criminality in films such as Bonnie and Clyde. In that film the protagonists were played by two fabulous-looking, charismatic (not to mention talented) actors. I came away feeling that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow would have been great fun to hang around with--dangerous, sexy fun.
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.)
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