As a reminder, Movie of the Moment is a film review that doesn’t necessarily cover the best movie or the worst, but one that I find interesting at the time. I rarely discuss plot in my reviews.
I’ve never been a fan of westerns. I could never get into the “frontier myth”.
It’s tough when you’re from Texas. Yeah, I came from the suburbs, but I’ve been all over this state and I know what it feels like in most places. If you’ve ever seen The Searchers (1957) you know how absurd this can be, when the opening title says “Texas 1868″ and we reveal… Monument Valley, New Mexico. To us, it’s like saying “Prague 1945″ and the first thing you see is the Eiffel Tower. Directors from around the country think they’re going to “capture” Texas, but all they do is stick someone in tight blue jeans and give them a drawl.
No other filmmaker understands Texas like Terence Malick. Regardless of where he films his movies or where they take place, Texas is in every one of them. The director, who lives in Austin most of the time, knows the flat, dry, gritty feeling of the Texas countryside. Malick has directed two films that took place in the state, Days of Heaven (1978) and The Tree of Life (2011).
Even if Badlands (1973) takes place in North Dakota, it’s pure Texas. The dry accents, the dirt underneath the fingernails, the faces of the extras, the flat agricultural landscape (though I don’t doubt these are all indicative of that region too) all point to a real Texas, the kind I grew up seeing mile after mile of on trips around the state.
This has always been my major feeling about film: it doesn’t need to actually be real, but must feel real, even if it has to stretch the truth to do so. Malick is the Andrei Tarkovsky of American film; he has never been interested in real representation of time and space but rather Tarkovsky’s vision of “sculpting in time”, a different concept than we’re used to but a fascinating one.
The film at hand, though, is about Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek’s characters as they travel across the Dakotas and Montana and is based on the story of the Starkweather killing spree. Another film I reviewed, Natural Born Killers (1993), is a very different take on the story.
Malick isn’t interested in the story of the characters so much as he is in the landscape, the extras, and the peripheral details. He doesn’t want to get into the mind of the killers and their pursuers like Stone did. The movie paints a fairly sympathetic view of our killers, but not consciously so. We’re just so used to seeing actors and actresses snap into “Oscar mode” and begin crying that we’re not used to seeing such dry performances as those given here.
But that’s what people are like. They’re mean, they’re tough, and they just don’t have the time to go into full drama mode when something like this happens. They enter into their own world, one separate from society and civilization. When they finally return, as Kit does, they act like normal human beings, but when they’re desperate and alone on an open highway, who knows what they’ll do?