Posts Tagged ‘burning’

Movie Moment: Badlands (Terence Malick, 1973)

December 4, 2009

Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen as Holly and Kit in Malick’s masterwork Badlands (1973). Warren Oates as her father.

Holly practices her clarinet on a bench, waiting for her father. Her father pulls up. They go home. Holly goes upstairs. Her boyfriend Kit comes over. He and her father have words. Kit shoots Holly’s father.

Having come down the stairs, Holly goes to her father’s side.

Kit watches and lights a cigarette.

She knows her father is going to die and that Kit has shot him, and she is not really shocked or reproachful, per se. It’s difficult to judge whether Holly is an unthinking person or if she is a person who just floats — don’t be fooled by her voice-over narration; Malick plays with contrasts between what’s reported and what we actually observe — through her life, someone who expects nothing and accepts everything.

Either way her father’s death is not a surprise. But because she expects nothing, she isn’t sure what Kit will do next. She is only slightly afraid that he might do something to her. You can read that here.



What Kit does next is he goes to a service station to get a can of gasoline. There is a coin-operated game there, a voice-recorder. He punches through the glass of the game. This act of time-consuming vandalism when he is trying to quickly throw together a plan to conceal a crime is open to interpretation: Kit either makes his own fun, or he cannot brook the bourgeois notion that some witless rube, some fool who has wandered a million years afield from the purpose of man as a hunter, might pay to have his own voice recorded, then, by hearing it played back, feel delight worth the coin he paid. Or maybe Kit has different ideas of how to make a mark, and what ought be recorded. I don’t know. I’m not Kit, and I don’t know Malick and his mind. This is guesswork. Kit leaves with his gas.

He uses the gas to douse Holly’s house, with her father’s corpse still inside.


Holly watches. Darkness is all around her and she is only lit by the lights from within the house. She is getting ready to turn her back on that light, and go in to the dark completely. She’ll go with Kit now.


The fire that began in Holly’s bed is about to consume their entire house. It was a choice that started there and now she has no choice but to go forward with Kit.



Malick handles the destruction of Holly’s house and her father’s body by focusing on the doll and the dollhouse as they burn. This is important. The end of small-minded, cast-mold imitations of real life, the end of modeled and scaled efforts at simulated perfection, leaving innocence behind in ashes. What now, Holly?

I will tell you what now. They leave Fort Dupree, South Dakota, and embark on a several-state killing spree before being captured. Really disturbing, incredibly-acted, understated film, almost totally perfect, and very gorgeous from the compositional perspective. A mixed bag. You very much need to be in the right mood.

The film drew inspiration from the real story of mass killer Charles Starkweather and his teenaged accomplice, Caril Ann Fugate, who killed eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming in January, 1958. Besides Malick’s Badlands, the pair of jerkwad murderers also inspired Natural Born Killers, the 1993 Tim Roth and Fairuza Balk TV mini-series Murders in the Heartland and, though I have never heard it confirmed, rather obviously and less seriously The Frighteners. Starkweather also pops up in works by Stephen King. That’s all I want to say about it. Go look it up if you want more.

I don’t feel like going in to all that partner-killer, famous-murder-spree, monstrous fucking shit right now. I will just say I have not grown into an adult who — nor an adult with the patience to tolerate another adult who — makes a huge to-do over killers. Exceedingly not. It’s why I didn’t even link you up with a wiki hook to that asshole Starkweather and his girl. So please don’t start in on me with factoids or comments about them, thinking we’re buddies-in-kink, if searching for killers because that’s how you get your kicks is how you found this post.

I’m not saying it’s not worth talking or thinking about — anyone with a stake in the success of society as a cooperative effort needs to worry and think and talk about people who break the rules, how they do it, why, and how we deal with it. But glorification and gory gushing on the intricacies of those transgressor’s little personal details? Making them celebrities while forgetting their victims’ names? Not interested.