Terrence Malick’s 1973 film “Badlands” is a movie that invites the viewer to enter into the experience of loneliness and alienation.

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Kit does not appear to have any human connection on earth until he meets Holly. Holly has only her father who is gone from her life in the first twenty minutes of the film.

badlands-6“Badlands” is filled with scenes in which Holly and Kit are utterly cut off from the rest of the world.

badlands-2The lonely scenes in the film are reinforced by the words Holly speaks in voiceover throughout the movie.

As Kit and Holly drive away from her school, she says,

it was better to spend a week with one who loved me for what I was than years of loneliness.

The irony of this observation haunts the rest of the film.

Commenting on their life together in the forest, Holly describes her feelings saying,

the hum of dragonflies in the air made it always seem lonesome and like everybody’s dead and gone.

badlands-4Then driving aimlessly over the Badlands, Holly says,

We lived in utter loneliness, neither here nor there. Kit said that solitude was a better word, cause it means more exactly what I wanted to say. Whatever the expression, I told him we couldn’t go on living this way.

To Kit “solitude” is somehow more appealing than loneliness. He seeks to escape the reality of his loneliness by making it seem somehow romantic when, in fact, “loneliness”, Holly’s much more honest word, is simply… lonely.

Near the end of the film, Holly says of Kit,

He dreaded the idea of being shot down alone, he said, without a girl to scream out his name.

The truth of the human condition is that we are alone. In our aloneness we are haunted by the feeling that, like Kit and Holly, we just don’t fit. We live with a nagging sense that there must be some place where we might really feel at home and if we just drive far enough we will eventually find it.

Near the beginning of the film, Holly describes her relationship to her father saying that after his wife’s death,

He tried to act cheerful, but he could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in his house.

And holed up in a rich man’s house Holly describes the world as

a faraway planet to which I could never return.

“Badlands” is filled with attempts to escape loneliness.

Holly and Kit seek to escape into the fantasy of romance. Holly invokes the thrill of romance saying,

In the stench and slime of the feedlot, he’d remember how I looked the night before, how I ran my hand through his hair and traced the outline of his lips with my fingertip. He wanted to die with me, and I dreamed of being lost forever in his arms.

But, even the most intimate act of human love, fails to bring any genuine connection between Kit and Holly. After they have sex for the first time, Holly asks,

Did it go the way it ‘uz supposed to?

Kit: Yeah.

Holly: Is that all there is to it?

Kit: Yeah.

Holly: Gosh, what was everybody talking about?

Kit: Don’t ask me.

Holly: Well. I’m glad it’s over… For a while I was afraid I might die before it happened… Had a wreck, some deal like that. 

Kit: You see where that three fell in the water?

Holly: Yeah… The river must’ve washed the roots away… You don’t care about anything I say, though.

Malick powerfully deconstructs the notion of romantic love as a solution to the experience of human loneliness. As Holly and Kit dance in the headlines of Kit’s car out in the Badlands, the voice of Nat King Cole sounds mournfully from the car radio singing

A blossom fell from off a tree
It settled softly on the lips you turned to me
The Gypsies say, and I know why
A falling blossom only touches lips that lie

A blossom fell and very soon
I saw you kissing someone new beneath the moon
I thought you loved me, you said you loved me
We planned together to dream forever
The dream has ended, for true love died
The night a blossom fell and touched two lips that lied

A blossom fell and very soon
I saw you kissing someone new beneath the moon
I thought you loved me, you said you loved me
We planned together to dream forever
The dream has ended, for true love died
The night a blossom fell and touched two lips that lied

But, Kit does not see the irony in the lyrics. He still believes he can find a way to appease his loneliness by romanticism and the illusion of celebrity, saying,

Boy, if I could sing a song like that… I mean, if I could sing a song about the way I feel right now, it’d be a hit.

He glows with appreciation every time someone draws attention to his likeness to James Dean and carefully checks his hair in the car mirror as he is about to be arrested.

Kit seeks to appease his loneliness by memorializing his relationship with Holly, collecting stones from the location of the first time they have sex, placing “our little tokens” in a basket and sending them “off in a balloon,” burying some of their “things in a bucket” in the vast empty space of the badlands. At the moment of his arrest, Kit frantically erects a cairn of stones, informing the arresting sheriff, “Right there’s where you caught me.”

The only time there is ever a crowd in the film is after Kit and Holly have been arrested.

badlands-5No strategies for dealing with human aloneness ever solve the problem.

There are no easy answers in “Badlands”. Malick refuses to tie things up in a tidy bundle. He leaves the viewer to face the aloneness of being human and to acknowledge the strategies to which we all resort in our attempts to ease the pain of being alone.

Almost the last word in the film goes to the State trooper who is accompanying Kit and Holly back to South Dakota. He says to Kit,

You’re quite an individual, Kit.

Kit replies posing a question, the final words of the film:

Think they’ll take that into consideration?

We need to take “into consideration” the fact that, in the timebound temporal material realm, we are all disconnected individuals, estranged from one another, circulating in our own lonely little world, desperate in our frustrated attempts to build a sense of belonging.

“Badlands” challenges the viewer to look more deeply and see if it is possible to uncover a deeper connection. Is it possible in the midst of the very real experience of disconnection and aloneness to find a deeper sense of unity and connection in which all creation is bound in one?

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From the screenplay:

Kit walks through the deserted alleys of the sleeping town.

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From the screenplay:

Kit approaches Holly’s father, who is hard at work, painting a billboard along a deserted stretch of road. Kit is eating a peace.

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Malick’s deconstruction of the romance myth continues as Holly’s house burns. The piece of music propped on the piano is Judy Garland’s “Journey To A Star”:

A journey to a star would not be very far
As long as I’m alone with you
Romantic as we are, a journey to a star
Could start before the dawn breaks through

You’re right beside my heart
We’re just about a kiss apart
And we could make a dream come true
A moment of your love would have the feeling of
A journey to a star with you

You’re right beside my heart
We’re just about a kiss apart
And we could make a dream come true
A moment of your love would have the feeling of
A journey to a star with you

The actual soundtrack during the fire is difficult to locate or accurately identify with my limited musicological ability. It appears to be from “Musica Poetica II: Bläserstücke: Pastourelles – Passion” by Tölzer Knabenchor

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From the screenplay:

We see a flat expanse of the Badlands. The Mercury appears over the horizon and heads toward a solitary house.

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