The son of an oil executive, Terrence Malick was brought up in Oklahoma and Texas. He got a degree in philosophy from Harvard, and received a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, but dropped out before completing his thesis on Heidegger. He taught philosophy at MIT for a year, then enrolled in a film class at the American Film Institute.
His first feature as writer-director, Badlands was an independent production based on the Charles Starkweather killing spree of 1959, and thus loosely aligned with “couple-on-the-run” movies like They Live By Night and Bonnie and Clyde. But as the title implies, the western plains of South Dakota and Montana dominate the action. Against this vast expanse of nothing trigger-happy runaways Kit (Martin Sheen) and his teenage girlfirend Holly (Sissy Spacek) seem small and remote. And Malick allows them to stay that way. They may be famous, but they’re still nobodies when you get to know them.
Badlands remains singular for its intimate distance, the give and take of Holly’s pragmatic-romantic narration and Kit’s casual violence. Laconic and poetic, this may be Malick’s most completely satisfying film, even if it prefigures progressively richer and more ambitious undertakings. Few movies are tuned so acutely into the wide-open spaces inside.
The movie is brilliantly composed with a loose, directionless swing that looks easy (but isn’t), and a superbly delicate, literate voiceover from Spacek that conveys the bizarre babes-in-the-wood quality of their life together on the run. An unmissable, transcendentally beautiful classic.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
In the fall of 1973, one could see signposts of cinema’s future in Mean Streets and The Exorcist, yet with this youthful pair of proto-indie dreamers, Malick was paving a whole new road.
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
July 18 Only: Introduction from filmmaker Will Ross
Edward R. Pressman
Tak Fujimoto, Stevan Larner, Brian Probyn