Monday, April 6, 2009

Essential Cinema - 45

Martin Sheen... Kit
Sissy Spacek... Holly
Warren Oates... Father
Ramon Bieri... Cato
Alan Vint... Deputy
Gary Littlejohn... Sheriff

Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick

Tak Fujimoto (photography)
Stevan Larner (photography)
Brian Probyn (photography)

A teenage delinquent and his girlfriend go on a killing spree / road trip in the American Midwest.

Youthful angst, ego and love set against the bleak landscape and rigid fabric of conservative middle America during the 1950s.

Even though there is a disclaimer that the characters in the film are fictional, it is evident that this is a stylized depiction of the Charles Starkweather killing spree that gripped America in 1958. While this film gives a human and somewhat likeable persona to Starkweather's image it is still a disturbing film on several levels.

The cast is dominated by a young Charlie Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek as the doomed lovers on their cross country killing spree. Sheen's character, Kit, is an unmotivated loser with no real ambition or drive. Spacek's Holly comes off as a shy and introverted young girl who is mostly heard in voice over as she waxes poetic about her doomed relationship with Kit.

It doesn't seem that Holly is actually in love with Kit and she often times appears to just be along for the ride in an attempt to escape her repressive past. She finds Kit endearing at first, but grows tired of him throughout the course of the film, eventually abandoning him in the end. Sheen's character is a bit more interesting to watch. Taking a stand and questioning authority for the first time in his life, he comes to realize that he has power and prestige based on his random acts of violence. Much like a wolf coming of age in a land full of sheep.

Having grown up in the Midwest, I was struck by how this film captured the tone and feel of the vast American heartland in the 1950s. It is seen here in almost surrealistic terms, with towns-capes and landscapes that are mostly devoid of people, as if the world were empty except for the main characters and odd people that they happen to come across.

Near the end of the film, Kit knows he is doomed as the society he has run amok in starts to constrict around him. Instead of making an earnest effort to escape, he becomes wrapped up in his own notoriety and is transformed into one of the first media stars. In his final scenes he is seen charming his captors and giving away trivial personal possessions, knowing they will be worth something simply because 'he' owned them.

The scenes of violence in this film are almost happenstance and their deaths seem random and without meaning. No reason is given for them and until the end, the killer goes unpunished. This film is a prelude to the pulp fiction dramas of the late 90s where violence is a central theme of the story (think Pulp Fiction or SinCity). The viewer can't help but be captivated by this film and its' dream-like journey through a time and place that seems asleep or in some sort of malaise. In essence, a film that documents the end of innocence in the societal sense and is a prelude to the turbulent times that were to follow.

This film is a part of my LaserDisc Collection which is located on the LaserDisc Database.

Clicking on the "Essential Cinema" title will take you to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entry for this film. The listing of all the LaserDiscs that I have reviewed on IMDB can be found here.

Clicking here will take you to a listing of all the "Essential Cinema" reviews in my Blog.