Paris, Texas (1984)
Wim Wenders’ masterpiece Paris, Texas arrives on Blu-ray this week and it remains a truly unique, haunting and affecting movie from the German director.
The film starts with a dazed and confused man, who we later learn is called Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), emerging from the barren desert wilderness of Texas before collapsing at a truck stop in need of medical attention. His brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) is contacted and drives from LA to pick Travis up and bring him home. Travis has been missing for four years and appears unaware of who he is and what has happened to him. As they drive home, Walt explains to Travis that he had a wife and child who he walked out on. A consequence of his leaving was that his wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski) felt unable to raise a child alone and so Hunter (Hunter Carson) was brought up by Walt and his wife Anne (Aurore Clement).
The plot from this point on is a simple one. Travis slowly opens up to his family and begins to bond with his son. Clearly still hiding the source of his grief and unable to relax in normal family environment, Travis cuts a shell-shocked figure at times. Eventually however, he earns Hunter’s trust and the two set off in search of Jane.
The film builds towards a reunion between Travis and Jane and the full explanation as to why Travis chose to walk out on her and Hunter. The exact reason for which I won’t spoil here, but the captivating scene where Travis, having tracked her down to a seedy peep-show where she strips for a living, finally expresses his regret and sorrow to Jane is an incredibly poignant moment and one which ultimately proves the perfect pay off to Travis’ journey.
So many elements add up to make Paris, Texas the wonderful movie that it is. Director Wim Wenders created a movie that is part drama, part living dream. The sumptuous visuals blend eye-catching American landscapes with moments of quintessential Americana, such as roadside diners, endless highways and railways. On Blu-ray especially, the film’s colour pallet is truly stunning with the deep blue skies and dusty orange backdrops really popping out of the screen. Wenders, a native German lest we forget, captures the spirit of an American road movie like few others have managed. The sense of alienation offered by the vastness of the American desert is offset by the beauty and majesty to be found in the freedom of the road.
Robby Muller also deserves praise for the outstanding cinematography and likewise Sam Shepard for his refreshingly real and aptly philosophical screenplay. A special mention must also be given to Ry Cooder’s slide-guitar soundtrack with captures the ethereal and melancholy tone of the film perfectly.
While the whole cast is pitch perfect, it’s Harry Dean Stanton’s wounded Travis who is absolutely the stand out performance. Stanton’s portrayal of a man on a personal journey, shifting from being so shrouded in grief he can barely talk to a tortured yet determined man, is simply superb. Towards the film’s end, Stanton delivers a monologue to Jane in the seclusion of one of her strip cub booths in which he regales her with a touching story about a certain man and a girl and what eventually drove them apart. The longing and regret present in his voice is mesmerising, just as the realisation and heartbreak is on Jane’s face when she figures out who is on the other side of the one-way mirror.
Travis’ journey is both a physical and an emotional one. In both cases he is a perennial outsider. Struggling to leave the wilderness behind and enter into civilised family life, he also remains forever withdrawn and so overwhelmed with sadness his final destination remains unclear.
Paris, Texas is a majestic and unforgettable film which lingers with you long after a perfectly measured ending brings Wenders’ landmark road movie to a close.
Paris, Texas is out on blu-ray 28th January 2013.
Director: Wim Wenders
Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell
Runtime: 147 min
Country: West Germany, France, UK, USA