dir. Terrence Malick, 1973

Against a cloudy sky Sissy Spacek as Holly and Martin Sheen as Kit lean against a police car; both are handcuffed and staring aimlessly into the distance.
Image credit: Warner Bros.

A friend and I had planned on seeing the latest instalment of Mission Impossible at the nearest multiplex. (I’ll sign off on anything in which Tom Cruise does a lot of unnecessary running.) Alas, we misread the release date — we settle instead for oldies at the Prince Charles Cinema. We choose the 18.10, 35mm showing of Badlands (Terrence Malick).

The PCC is London’s most ‘depraved’ cinema — John Waters claims in a pre-showing introduction. It’s also where the same friend and I spent New Year’s Eve watching the beloved rom-com When Harry Met Sally, and where I sang along to Disney’s Mulan one previous summer.

Back to tonight’s showing: Badlands. What follows is a 90-minute desert spree featuring a deadpan, Dariaesque Bonnie and Clyde. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play Kit and Holly — bored young people who take a stab at being outlaws. This is a tale of small-town America; of garbage collectors and would-be cowboys. Plot-wise I’ll leave it there. I’m more interested in the arid landscapes and dust clouds made by spun-out tyres in car chases. There is an element of Wim Wenders in the film’s lonesome yet mildly humorous tone. Kit receives dry laughs from the audience when suggesting that he and Holly should crush their hands with rocks for the pain, so they never forget the first time they were intimate. As he mutters earlier on, ‘I’ll try anything once.’

This one reminded me of Bones and All, another angsty-teen-outlaw feature. These are stories where you might cheer for the wrongdoers and not be blamed for doing so. After all, they’re only people doing what many wish they could: turning their heels against society and going their own way. In the back of my mind there is a voice that half-whispers: ‘I just wanna get out of here.’ Badlands utters it in a semi-serious tone that through gritted teeth is forcefully meant.