Essential Film: Paris, Texas

Director: Wim Wenders

Released: 1984

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By Paul Rodger, Arts Editor

“All he wanted to do was sleep. And for the first time, he wished he were far away. Lost in a deep, vast country where nobody knew him. Somewhere without language, or streets. He dreamed about this place without knowing its name…He ran until the sun came up and he couldn’t run any further. And when the sun went down, he ran again. For five days he ran like this until every sign of man had disappeared.”

A picture of true individual brilliance, Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas is a story of isolation and disarray, and fulfillment and closure: a must-see for any 80s cinephile.

The narrative opens with a bedraggled man rambling through the arid wastelands of the Texan desert. Wandering aimlessly, the man ambles into a battered saloon, before collapsing from dehydration. Attended by a doctor who finds a piece of crumpled paper with a phone number on it, he manages to get in contact with the muted man’s brother; who travels from L.A. to Texas to pick him up. Reaching the saloon and discovering that his brother Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) has disappeared and continued drifting, Walt (Dean Stockwell) soon catches up with him. After arduously trying to get his brother to speak, Walt eventually tells Travis that he and his wife have been looking after his young son during his four-year absence. Returning to L.A. with his brother, Travis is reunited with his son, Hunter. Gradually rekindling his relationship with his 7 year-old son, Travis eventually decides to track down Hunter’s mother Jane (Nastassja Kinski), who he is informed by Walt’s wife transfers money over to her for Hunter, and is living in Austin, Texas.

A simple tale of reunification and vindication, the intricacies of the character interactions throughout the plot, including the individual character development, are the most pleasing aspects of this film. In particular Travis, who goes from a silent amnesiac, through anxious pangs and trivial idiosyncrasies to a responsible father who forces himself to give up what he cherishes the most; making the watch all the more uplifting and warming. The swansong of the film comes with Travis, having travelled to Austin with Hunter, eventually finding Jane and visiting her twice at her workplace in a peepshow club. The long drawn out conversations between them, divided by a one-way mirror, acts as the perfect prop device for the fixating dialogue between the pair.

Stylistically, the rustic backcountry of rural Texas, with its expansive deserts and seemingly never-ending highways, etching through the sun beaten landscape, aptly symbolizes Travis’ character transformation, as he enters the bustling L.A. with his brother, and he comes back to life. The rugged aesthetic associated with the film soleil genre that started in the early 80s, but without the crime and debauchery, Paris, Texas offers a playful and at times comical, yet candid and emotional take on the yearning strains of the fracture of family life.

Upheld as one of Wenders’ most appraised works, and marked as the late Kurt Cobain’s favourite film, Paris, Texas is a film of memorable substance and beautiful production; a truly essential film of timeless quality and lasting discernment.} else {