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It takes all kinds
on April 10, 2013
Inspired by the true life case of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, Terence Malick's debut feature film follows two young lovers who go on a short-lived crime spree, like a bored and jaded Bonnie and Clyde. It all starts when Kit, a garbage man, takes a liking to teenaged Holly. Holly's father warns Kit to stay away from his daughter, leading to a showdown of sorts between the two men that ends with an act of violence. Kit leaves a record player playing a recorded message claiming that he and Holly are going to kill themselves (to throw off the authorities), and sets fire to the house before escaping with Holly, setting off on a journey whose course is foreshadowed by something Kit says in the aforementioned recording: "Nobody's coming out of this thing happy...especially not us."
From their makeshift home in the woods and a brief, violent visit to an old friend of Kit's, to their dash for the mountains of Saskatchewan (which to Kit represent freedom beyond the reach of the law), we are given a window into Holly's private thoughts through the use of voice-over, a sometimes vapid, sometimes rambling commentary from a young girl that can also be frightening at times, like when she thinks after Kit commits a triple murder: "At this moment, I didn't feel shame or fear, but just kind of blah, like when you're sitting there and all the water's run out of the bathtub."
Holly chitchats with a teenage girl, who is likely not much older than herself, surely knowing that the girl will most likely come to a bad end, and soon. Kit records nonsensical "advice" (for whose benefit, we're not quite sure) into a Dictaphone while holding a man and his housemaid hostage. The pair politely ask a man if they can borrow some gas before Kit pulls out a gun when the man refuses. Kit and Holly dance together in the glare of headlights while listening to Nat King Cole. We watch them drive though a great emptiness under painfully blue skies, heading somewhere, reaching for something, while seeming to not quite know where or what it is they are searching for. And all the while we remember those words spoken earlier in the film, "...especially not us." But as Kit concedes in that same recorded message: "I can't deny we've had fun, though."
And the reason for it all? There is no reason here, no logic to these senseless acts of violence. It's best summed up in a line from the short story "Nebraska" by Tennessee Jones, a story inspired by the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, which in turn was inspired by this film. When the girl asks the boy why he killed a man, he answers simply: "I don't think I need a reason for that. He was doing what he does, and here I am doing what I do."