Paris, Texas (1984)
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Paris, Texas is virtually my favorite movie, and a movie that, whether you like it or not, will leave some impact on you. It is a journey, an experience, an odyssey.
Yes, it is long. Yes, it is slow. Defined plot points? Please.
But what this movie does do is place into the mind of it's lead character. Travis Henderson, an older man, gruff and worn out with age, wanders out of the Texas desert after missing from his family for four years. He is mute, and apparently unaware of who he is. His brother Walt finds him, and tries to rehabilitate him back into sanity. The film then covers Travis's journey to reconnect with a past which he has long since forgotten. He reunites with his son, his sister in-law, and eventually, in a scene which I tear up just thinking about, his wife.
But that is all I will divulge about his wife. That is a scene which you really have to see to believe.
While this film really doesn't rely on plot, it does have structure and tone. And what carries us through this mystical story is the unbelievably beautiful photography. We see the world as it should be seen: a starkly beautiful, but uncompromising, place. The use of color and motifs really makes this film a marvel to look at.
And then we get to performances. Everyone's great, so I will focus on our two truly main characters. Harry Dean Stanton plays Travis, a gentle, kind man, that, despite having personal demons, is a great fatherly figure (fine, maybe he isn't the best father...but there's no denying he left an impact on his son's life). And seeing Stanton bring this character to life in the most subtle and somber way possible is amazing. And then we have Natassja Kinski, who plays Jane, his wife. She doesn't show up until the third act, and 95% percent of her performance takes place in one room. But Kinski's portrayal of emotion...and her quiet, yet powerful demeanor...and the way she talks...god, it's unbelievable. Stanton and Kinski have some of the best chemistry ever, which is even more impressive considering they're never in the same room (see the movie...you'll understand). In the end, these two carry the movie on their backs, and do an amazing job doing it.
You may not cry, but you will think about crying. You will think about all the sad moments in your life. And it will all be washed out of you by movie's end. Believe me, I know this from personal experience. This movie is almost therapeutic in the way. Because the story is healing our own souls at the same time as it is healing Travis's.
So. What's more to say about Paris, Texas? It's a beautiful movie, one that relies on photography and performances to tell it's story, and a movie that portrays emotions on a master class level. And what do I mean by 'Anti-Romance'? It's not worth explaining here. See the movie, you'll understand.
Perhaps each person person has a film -- usually a masterpiece -- which affects him or her so strongly that it is beyond description. This is mine.
As I recall, I first saw it while I was a student in a small theater in '84 or '85; a year or two later I recorded it from cable to Beta tape. After not having watched it for years, I've played it again a few times over the last couple of years. Many movies I recall having liked in the past are just big disappointments when I watch them years later. That's not the case with this one! Then I was single; now I'm married. That alone makes a big difference, but I also find that even some small elements now have more meaning. I previously attached no significance to the scene where Travis was determined to find the same rental car in which he and Walt had previously driven. But how often people do sentimentally and fiercely cling to, objectively, unimportant things in reaction to having had their hearts and spirits broken more than a few times over important things. I often recall this scene when observing some instance of this in myself or others.
I am struck by what opposite opinions people have of this movie. If you have few problems relating to other people, or you don't care much about relating to other humans, and little in your life disappoints you over long spells of your life, you will probably find this movie very boring. I sort of envy people in this situation, though before I would want to wish myself to be like that, I pause at how much my life would be changed and how little of my personality would be left, if I did.
I, too, eagerly await the release of this movie on high quality DVD, and hope that my still barely viewable Beta will last til then.
The film is about reunion. The first third of the film, dealing with the reunion of brothers Travis and Walt in the Texas desert, is both very touching and very real. You can sense the frustration on Walt's face when Travis doesn't want to talk to him about anything, and throughout the road trip, you begin to get more interested in Travis' ramblings to Walt about Paris, Texas.
The second third deals with the reunion of Travis with his son, Hunter, and, to a lesser extent, since he's only been gone for less than a week, the reunion of Walt with his wife Anna and Hunter. This is by far my favorite part of the film, because it shows a young boy (Hunter) trying to readjust after his father returns after a four-year absence. Hunter (by the way, he's a great actor) is nice to Travis at first, but refuses to walk home from school with him because "Everyone drives." The fact that director Wim Wenders focuses on this little portion of the film shows true family life--it expands the little "sin" that Hunter has done. This event sets up perhaps my favorite scene in any film: Hunter and Travis walking home "together"--on opposite sides of the street--with the boy mimicking the movements of his real father. In the following scene I'm touched because the neighborhood reminds me of home--Hunter stops and allows his father to cross the street to join him. There is also a scene (also with no dialogue) that deserves mention--the family watching Super 8mm film of a family fishing trip. Here we see Jane for the first time (a beauty), and we get a portrait of the happy family while the film plays background music for us. It's a wonderful scene that's executed beautifully. The film of the fishing trip allows Hunter to make an observation to Anne about his father--he sees by the way Travis looked at Jane that Travis still loves her very much.
The last third of the film comes as a real shock, and I won't spoil it for anyone because this third of the film is what made me REALLY love the entire film. The sequence of events in the final third actually came out of left field, because I was never really expecting that. You should have figured out, though, that there is a reunion between Travis and his estranged wife, Jane. Harry Dean Stanton's monologue is perhaps one of the best ever caught on film. It's really long but you hear every word and every pause. And what I like about that particular scene is the lighting--notice how the sunlight comes in through the window in Jane's room, and suddenly near the end you realize that it's been artificial light after all. There is a similar lighting effect in "A Clockwork Orange"--during Alex's chat with F. Alexander and his two co-conspirators over wine and spaghetti.
Overall, "Paris, Texas" is a great film that should be noted both for its photography and for its realistic look at family life. These are people who are a real family--opinionated, angry, happy, sad, melodramatic, judgmental, high-strung, incommunicado, etc. They refuse sometimes to admit their true feelings and that is exactly what makes a family a family sometimes, the fact that you can't say what you really want to say at a certain time.
This is the kind of film directors really want to make--small, realistic, poignant...and with zero special effects.
I have seen this film more than seven times, and love the slow pace because it allows me to be drawn into that world completely and really have the chance to get to know each character. Recommended to anyone with an interest in psychology, cinematography, Sam Shepard's style of story-telling, and movies that walk to their own beat. Natascha Kinski and Stanton are excellent.
I give it 8 stars (9 if they would release it letterboxed on DVD)
Character actor Harry Dean Stanton is fantastic in the lead role of Travis -- a man who had fallen into an emotional black hole and is then reunited with his brother (Dean Stockwell), who has been raising Travis' young son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), in an idyllic and loving suburban landscape with his foreign wife, Ann (Aurore Clement). As Travis slowly begins to grapple with his past and bond with his son, he soon realizes he must find his long, lost wife, Jane (an excellent and understated Nastassja Kinksi), whom he still deeply loves on some level, and abandoned their son years ago shortly after Travis went off the deep end.
This all could've been the plot of Lifetime TV movie, but the European filmmaker's perspective on an all American slice of melodrama adds an undercurrent of intrigue in that you never know what these characters are going to do next. We soon find Travis practically abducting his son (who eagerly plays along) from his happy new family life to go on a trek to Houston to find Jane.
The closing in scene in a Houston hotel where son and mother are reunited is one of the most fascinatingly rich scenes ever put on screen. Rarely does any one scene work to engage a viewer on so many levels:
Firstly: There is a complex psychological framework that is set into place in the scenes prior between Stanton and Kinski in the peep show booth where she now works which are two of the most expertly photographed and brilliantly acted scenes I've ever witnessed. Travis has confessed all to his lost love, Jane, and she is clearly in dire straits. His attempt to reunite her with their son is both selfish (in that it is clearly not in the child's best interest to be raised by his emotionally troubled mother when he has loving foster parents waiting for him back home) and selfless, in that he truly feels his only way to repair the damage he has done is to leave after getting mother and son back together.
Secondly: It is beautifully acted with Kinski's ghost-like entrance and young Hunter Carson's trepidation. Witness his hand slide across the wall looking for something to grip, and then his hands running through his hair before he finally decides to embrace her.
Thirdly: It is exquisitely photographed. Earlier we see scenes of stark isolation as the child waits in the hotel room. Sofia Coppola later used a similar photographic technique in "Lost in Translation" to show how being alone in a big city and looking down from an anonymous hotel room window can be one of the loneliest things in the world.
The final scene is both beautiful and emotional, and at the same time makes the viewer wonder, how will this all end? Yes, it is wonderful to see the child and mother reunite, but their new life could easily turn into an emotional hell because of the now absent Travis' misguided attempt at his own redemption.
A film working on so many levels like this is best summed up in its own dialogue. In one scene where Travis is drunk and telling his son some family history, he essentially says that his father was more in love with an "idea of her" than with his actual mother. This is a fantastic movie for people more in love with the romantic "idea of movies" and their potential power as an art form than with any one movie in particular. As such, this ranks among the best I have ever seen.
It just sounds like a hollow praise for a hollow minded cute, blonde and gorgeous girl. In fact, it is an offense.
For a director that first was inspired by images and then looked for stories to fill them and give them reasons to be released as films (he says this in a book). Wenders achieves his high technical and vision point concerning his way of thinking, not just film but life in this masterpiece.
He had before discussed the production of images and how this affects our way of seeing and perceiving life. But in Paris, Texas the image, the landscapes really becomes a character, not just to give a good photography and make those 2 1/2 hours that the movie lasts oh!!, so beatiful to watch!!, or to make us get in its atmosphere... The landscapes are so important as the words, or actions, between the characters are, it really touches people surrounded by it, it influences some how their personalities. I mean, each photograme tries to bring this relation.
It is beautiful how Wenders can build his caracters personalities, not by the way they think or act, but what impresses them, what visually interests them - like when Travis is watching not the airplane, but its shadow on the ground while it takes off.
After all that, i can just say that the rest of the whole story is made by really beautiful, touching and delicate situations of a man's life trying to reorder the lost pieces from a puzzle.
And, yes, the conversation between Travis and his ex-wife by the last half hour to the end is one of the most touching moments seen on the screen.
(Spoilers) Travis (Stanton) we find is suffering from guilt and the pain of losing the things in life that he loved the most. Most men that have loved will see part of themselves in Travis' stories of how jealousy drove him to not let his wife out of his sight, but we don't take it as far as Travis, drink drove his jealousy to new heights. Even though some of his stories would appall us, now we have seen how he destroyed his life, or the drink destroyed him, we now feel sorry for him. The two monologues with Jane are, in my opinion, two scenes that will stay with every viewer for a long time. Travis cannot even look at Jane because it would cause him too much pain and break him even further. But before he leaves Jane he needs to tell her why he did the things to her that he did, only then could Travis find some peace and maybe regain a part of the soul that he lost.
Like John Wayne in "The Searchers" Travis realises at the end of the film that he has to go and leave alone, that he ruined his chance of a happy life with Hunter and Jane, or he realised that he could never be happy with her, for the intense love that he felt for Jane would always bring jealousy and suspicion would that would always be at the front of his mind.
The music also deserve a mention. The southern, bluesy slide guitar by Ry Cooder is so simple but so effective in adding to the lazy pace of the movie.
However, if we discard our need to interpret behavior rationally, then the film works, either as a dream or, more generically, as a parable of modern day America, from the viewpoint of a European film director. The characters and their journey through the film's story are symbolic of American culture as a whole, with its ever-present loneliness, urban alienation, emotional separation, and general rootlessness.
The film's visuals and music combine to prop up the thin story, and give the film its enduring cultural theme. Cinematographer Robby Muller's images are stunning. His location shots both in the desert and in the urban jungle, using polarizing filters, are works of true photographic art. The images, with their florescent greens, reds, blues, and yellows in dim light are just terrific. More than any dialogue could, these visuals effectively convey the loneliness, alienation, and lost love that are so characteristically American. And Ry Cooder's simple but haunting Tex-Mex guitar sounds amplify this grim mood.
The film's main flaw is its length. With a runtime of 150 minutes, some parts of the film could have been edited out, without loss of the film's message.
"Paris, Texas" is a memorable art house film about the modern American experience. Like other art house films, the story is not necessarily to be taken literally. Instead, the story provides narrative support for the visuals, the music, and other film elements, the combination of which imparts some broader or deeper social message than could be conveyed by story alone.
Travis's brother Walt seems to be the opposition to his wild ways, someone the audience can relate to in their attempts to deal with the strangeness of Travis. But Walt also lives in a world trapped by images: he creates billboards, simulacra if there ever were any, and creates a model family that is ultimately an untenable attempt at playing house (his wife is notably French, tying in his obsessions to Travis's). We are presented with two quintessential American images: the warm suburban nuclear family and the rugged loner prowling the frontier, but both are illusions and both bring only suffering.
All of this is to say nothing of the technical excellence of Paris, Texas: the gorgeous cinematography, the note-perfect acting from not just Stanton but the rest of the cast as well, those two heartbreaking long scenes near the end... but all of this is also spectacle, and at the same time the film is drawing us in with its execution it's warning us of the dangers of the seductive image. My favourite films are, for the most part, films that are at least in part about the act of watching. Paris, Texas falls into these two overlapping categories neatly.
Harry Dean Stanton has always been one of my favorite character actors, and I was pleased to see him get a lead role for a change. He's terrific, and the only flaws I could maybe point out were the script's fault and not his. Kinski is very good as well. Like I said, the script has some issues for me, with the main character arc being a little hard to buy, and the two and a half hour running time could have been trimmed without loss of mood or substantial content. The cinematography by Robby Muller is fantastic, as is the score by Ry Cooder. I would still recommend this film, but I was a little disappointed considering it was one of the "1001 Movies to See Before You Die".
A man stumbles out of the desert in southern Texas. He appears to be mute, and doesn't respond to questions. The hospital he ends up in calls his brother in California, who comes to take him back to LA. His brother hasn't seen him in four years. What caused him to be catatonic and wandering around in the desert?
Directed by Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas is an incredibly emotional journey, with a great deal of mystery attached too. Wenders drip- feeds information, slowly building a picture of the characters and their stories. The dialogue is rich with symbolism and allegories, giving hints to characters' situations...and lessons in life.
The air of mystery and emotion is heightened by hauntingly desolate yet beautiful scenery and cinematography and a superb soundtrack by Ry Cooder.
The conclusion is incredibly moving - one of the most emotional passages in any movie I've ever seen, and is a great insight into the pressures on modern relationships.
Might feel slow sometimes but it is never dull, especially if you like character-driven dramas, and the ending is well worth the wait.
In my opinion it features some of the best photography ever in filmmaking with long lasting shots on the huge landscapes that the poor characters wander around in. The music by Ry Cooder is simply perfect, it gives you a wonderful feeling of melancholy (which I think could be the word that really describes this film).
Paris Texas is very slow paced. I remember sitting in the chair in the cinema, thinking what would happen next. And every time I thought that I knew what Wenders was up to - he did exactly the opposite. I loved it every time, it felt as if the director was reading my thoughts - or at least, knows how an ordinary film is usually set - and since he makes quite the opposite - I dare call the film extraordinary.
It would be interesting to know if others who have seen this film also are buffs of Dr. Zhivago because these two films have a lot in common. (Yes, I like it! :-)
This is a film I saw in 1994. I still haven't seen anything better and I doubt very much that I will.
"Paris, Texas" is a quiet, quiet film. Sam Shepard wrote a script that is more about actions than dialogue, which makes it all the more curious that the final twenty-some minutes of the film feature little but conversation. The final scene between Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski drags on into the heart of darkness, the deeply painful memories of two terribly broken individuals and how they go on with life. This isn't a quick interaction that draws tears to the surface and lets you continue with your life. It dives in deep and doesn't come up for air until every last inch of emotion is pulled to the surface.
Robby Müller, the cinematographer who worked with Wenders on many of his films, helps to make "Paris, Texas" one of the most breathtakingly beautiful visual experiences ever. The colours are so vibrant yet stunningly realistic. For all of its emotional depth, this is a thing of great surface beauty. Inside and out, it is achingly powerful film.
Travis and Jane had a bad marriage. It was mostly his fault, but in truth they both showed signs of instability. When the big blow-up came, the shrapnel scattered far and wide. One such piece was in the form of their 4-year-old son, Hunter.
Now, Hunter was lucky. Unlike his parents, who disappeared into obscurity, he ended up as the "foster-child" of Travis's brother and his wife. They were stable, happily married, and gave him a loving home. He was as content as a boy could be under the circumstances.
Uh-oh, don't count your chickens, Hunter. Four years later, out of the festering sands of the Mojave desert and looking like some sort of moulting lizard, emerges Travis. He is heading for some obscure destination possibly his dusty plot at Paris, Texas, where he might have been considering spending the rest of his life growing tree tomatoes, or anything else far removed from the responsibilities of parenthood. Instead, he encounters civilisation, which contacts his brother. Somewhat against his will, Travis is reunited with the son whom he abandoned.
Now, to give him his credit, Travis is a man who realises that he has made some serious mistakes. Had the rest of the movie been about how he confronted those mistakes and actually did something about them and then won back his son's love bit by bit I'd have given it 10 out of 10. The final shot could have been that touching scene when Hunter stops and Travis crosses the road and they go up the hill together. Fade out.
But, no. Instead of doing that, he decides to atone for his mistakes by taking his now 7-year-old son away from his happy and stable new home, on a journey down to Houston to find his mother. Hunter is to be sacrificed for the sake of Travis's conscience.
In spite of discovering that Jane is unmarried and working as a nightclub hostess (you could say, a prostitute), he leaves the boy with her and runs off. No doubt he is heading for that arid patch at Paris, Texas once again. Except this time he probably thinks he has at long last done something good in his life.
I can't agree. One of the worst exhibitions of parental irresponsibility I have ever seen in a movie is when Travis gets his son to phone his foster parents to tell them he has left home. This, of course, is after putting them to a lot of needless worry wondering where he was.
Poor Hunter. How long before she quits on him again? Or hits the bottle? Or, before he gets abused by one of her clients? Oh, but the music's great. And the acting. And Texas.
The film doesn't benefit from any big name actors, but the actors in the movie do give it their all and ensure that it doesn't fall down on the acting side. Harry Dean Stanton takes the lead role, and does a good job in, at first, portraying a man consumed with amnesia; and then consumed with the time he has lost. Nastassja Kinski is the only member of the cast that has a really notable list of film credits other than this movie, but ironically she has the least screen time of the five leads. Every minute she is on screen is a delight, however, and she lights up the screen with both of her talents; looks and acting ability. The young Hunter Carson gives a rare child performance; i.e. one that isn't incredibly annoying, but strangely he didn't appear in very many movies after this one. The climax to the tale is more than satisfying, and is easily one of the most haunting and potent I've ever seen in a film. Wenders shows his talent with both the execution and the implications of it, and it's a satisfying end to a very satisfying movie. Recommended.
There isn't a False Note from the Actors and Ry Cooder's sliding Score is superb. The Cinematography is at times Breathtaking and Glows gloriously, awash in an amazing display of Soft toned Colors.
The Film's Detractors are all over it because of its Length and Simple Story, Long Scenes of Dialog Pausing, and Pacing that is nothing less than long Stretches that are meant to be Thoughtful and Thrive on Gazing.
It is Harry Dean Stanton's Film as He center Cuts the Story suffering from slight Dementia and OCD. But the support from Dean Stockwell and then Nastassja Kinski are Remarkable. Child Actor Hunter Carson in a Debut that is Intelligent and softly Underplayed. Aurore Clément as Stockwell's Wife has the least impact but manages a Small Heartfelt Part.
Overall, it is an Art Film for sure. A European Eying America up Close and is Not a Movie that Everyone will Enjoy. It is Longer than most, Slower than most, and the Story is Less Extravagant than most. Patient Viewers are in for a Treat as the Movie Methodically unfolds an utterly Unique Experience in Movie-Going.
Over the years this film seems to have grown in stature and reputation, partly because it is perhaps not as widely seen as it once was. For that reason I made sure I watched it when I got the chance recently and was struck immediately by one of the main reasons that I kept watching the film at times, that being the blend of beautiful visuals and haunting score. Normally films that have weak narrative will not suck me in but strong visual style (isn't that what the complaint about most summer blockbusters is?) however the striking look to the first parts of the film really drew me into it even when the plot did not. As everyone else in the world says, Ry Cooder's score was very well used and that's all I'll say on that issue since too many reviews seem to focus on this as if it were the most important part of the film.
The plot is, lets be honest, very slowly delivered painfully slow at times; but yet it managed to fill almost 2½ hours quite easily and surprised me by how it suddenly became an impressive film when, for large sections of it, I felt left out, disinterested and distracted. Of course many younger viewers may not make it that far because it is very slow at times and this will put many off before it gets better. It does build well and it is really with the scenes between Travis and Jane that the film is at its strongest; I'm sure others have different interpretations but I do like to think that Travis was dead and only returned to reunite his family whether dead to them or really dead is another matter but the ending was nicely low key and lacking the sickly sentiment that could have killed it. The cast are a big reason this works because many of them do play really well. Stanton is great and he does tend to steal the film from those around him whether mute or unseen behind mirrored glass. He is excellent in his scenes with Kinski, who more than holds her own in a smaller role. Stockwell is good in support and Carson turns in a likable performance that pretty much manages to avoid "cute kid" destruction.
Overall this is not a perfect film and many viewers coming to it on the back of its reputation may struggle to stay with a plot that develops very slowly indeed without a great deal of explanation. The acting is good, the score is very well used while the direction and cinematography is close to mesmerising at times. The script does deliver but I was never totally into it until the final third; fortunately at this point things become much clearer and much more interesting and, despite taking an age to get anywhere, I was ultimately glad that I had watched it and had enjoyed the total film more than I had enjoyed individual moments of it.
This was an idea from the Bible that had always stuck with me from Sunday School classes from my childhood. Paris, Texas is a modernised version of that passage, and it struck such a chord in me emotionally that I had to re-watch it the day after. I now consider it one of the, if not the, greatest film of all time.
Travis (a mercurial Harry Dean Stanton) wanders out of the desert not knowing who he is. His brother (the always reliable Dean Stockwell) finds him, and helps to pull his memory back of the life he led before he walked out on his family and disappeared four years earlier. Travis decides to reunite his family, leading him and his young son, Hunter, on a journey in search of his wife, Jane.
Even though Robby Müller's cinematography is perfection throughout. (Seriously, the colours pop in such a way that the film regularly looks like a work of art) The true beauty of the film is Wim Wenders' and Sam Shepard's ability to create characters that feel so real. I never thought I'd be able to emphasise with every single character of a film, but it's testament to both Wenders and Shepard's genius as filmmakers that it's possible in this film. The phrase "cinematic poetry" always struck me as an empty compliment, but it makes total sense to use it to describe this film. The one way mirrors of Jane's occupation speak so much volumes and furthers the divide between the man and his wife. It is not until Travis explains his behaviour that the barrier between them is broken. They are fully able to understand each other, and realise that the possibility of reuniting is truly unavailable. The physical barrier still exists, but the emotions they feel are able to conquer any border. Like all art for me, I can appreciate it even more if I feel an emotional connection to it. No other film has struck me emotionally in such a strong way in years. Travis leading Hunter to Jane in the hope of starting afresh as a family, and then leaving because he knew he couldn't be with them is just such a heartbreaking and beautiful idea to me. He wanted the best for the ones he loved more than his own life, and the best was not to be with him. So the man has to go on, leaving all that he holds dear and start again on his own accord with only the knowledge that they're happy together to keep him comfort. Truly stunning.
That freaking gorgeous pink jumper that Kinski wears may be my favourite movie costume of all time.