Sissy Spacek plays Holly, a fifteen-year-old in 1958 whose mother has died and her father has moved her to South Dakota to get away from the sad memories. There, she meets Kit, Martin Sheen, who is ten years older than her and is a juvenile delinquent. He takes a shine to her and they begin spending time together. When her father finds out and tries to keep them apart, Kit shoots him dead, and the couple go on the run.
The film is frustrating in many ways. Both of the main characters are immature, and annoying. When hiding out in a rich man’s house, Kit spends time spouting wisdom into a dictaphone. It’s ridiculous that he can feel he has this wisdom to share, but it says so much about the character. Arrogant, but immature. Then there’s Holly. She commentates the film, and is coldly detached from all that goes on around her. Perhaps it is the shock of her mother’s death, or a lack of self-esteem; whatever, she is a fascinating character to watch.
Recently, director Terrence Malick directed Tree of Life, a film which I am still unsure if I like or respect. Badlands has much of the beautiful cinematography of Tree of Life, along with the feel of 1950s small town America. But Badlands definitely wins out for me because it has a story and character and, well, a point.
I can see why many people think this is a life changing film. I can see why it inspires people to reflect on their own life and their place not only in the world. I can see that it is very, very beautiful. I still didn’t like it.
For me, this wasn’t a feature film; it was an experimentation in alternative methods of storytelling. Sort of. There wasn’t really a story, but an exploration of a life. Or several lives. I got somewhat confused between who I was watching at times, and why. And the whispering – it was like watching a Hungry Jacks ad from the mid-ninties. I could have used less of the whispering and even a bit less of the constant overpowering music. Whilst many people will find this a beautiful film that changes their lives, I reckon that there are equally as many people who will find this film wanky, annoying and far too long. But, if you hate it that much, even ninety minutes will be too long.
It would be beautiful to watch this film at an outdoor cinema in some gardens on a balmy evening with a lot of wine – unless you don’t like it. In which case, you may get kicked out for shouting obscenities at the screen.
It’s been a couple of days since I watched the film, and while I still didn’t like the way it was structured or appreciate the point of it, the beautiful images keep flashing into my head. And I’m enjoying them, despite myself. But one thing keeps coming back. What the hell was all that with the dinosaurs and stuff about? It was awesome, but why was it there?
Tree of Life was nominated for Oscars for Best Achievement in Directing (Terrence Malick), Best Cinematography and Best Motion Picture of the Year.