“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.”
It’s peculiar that I would have two transformative film experiences in such a short span of time, but I found myself rushing to IMDB to solidify for myself that both Seven Samurai and Paris, Texas would be among my new favorite movies. The former was a triumph, a mystery of scaled storytelling that left me ripe with excitement. The latter is perhaps the most haunting movie I’ve ever seen.
Through a beautifully barren American landscape stumbles Travis (Harry Dean Stanton). He is a drifter and has been for several years, when he suddenly finds his way back into the lives of his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) and 10 year old son (Hunter Carson). At first amnesiac but slowly regaining his memories, Travis must face the actions of his past and attempt to forge a path for his future and how it relates to those closest to him.
Harry Dean Stanton brings his undoubtedly finest performance, but I was most entranced by Nastassja Kinski. I speak often about those moments when I forget everything I know about film and become transfixed by a scene, and in this movie, it was just about any time Kinski was on screen. Her polite, familiar demeanor gives way to a broken thousand-yard stare that would make Kubrick proud. It’s stuck with me since the moment the film ended, and it conveys the horrors of good realism in a way that I’ve never seen a movie pull off before now.
This ties into another crucial piece of the brilliance of Paris, Texas, the screenplay from playwright Sam Shepard that feels, well, like a play. The landscapes are beautiful, and the movie deserves deep praise and analysis for its photography, but the words always come first. Characters take their time when they speak in a wise but somber way that you find in great American theatre. Motivations aren’t easy to pin down, and we don’t find get Travis’s backstory until near the end of the movie. Paris, Texas isn’t about turns of plot or spectacular occurrences. It works, as theatre does, on a more intimate level to deliver moments of beauty in the closest thing that the arts can present as real people with real struggles.
The Criterion website, from which I draw 100 percent of my knowledge and opinions, claims that Paris, Texas is “a powerful statement on codes of masculinity and the myth of the American family,” which I also find fascinating. Harry Dean Stanton’s final speech indicates the fleeting, near-impossible nature of the conventional family unit as people grow and change. While this unraveling isn’t revealed until the climax of the film, it seems to loom over every scene, and I look forward to watching the movie again for this reason. Even in the numerous moments of joy and connection between Travis and his family, a sense of despair seems to prevail, as if these successes are only temporary.
The movie is a masterfully written work of cinematic brilliance, and I believe this is due to its inherent theatricality. Director Wim Wenders conveys in an interview that his desire was to create a truly American film, and I think he does so in a subtle, uncomfortable way that comes out beautifully resonant by the time the credits roll. It left me deeply affected, and I already hold it as a personal treasure that I am sure to revisit again and again.
Films Left to Watch: 848