A PLACE FOR DREAMS. A PLACE FOR HEARTBREAK. A PLACE TO PICK UP THE PIECES.
Lately I’ve been going through a period where I’ve felt somewhat lost regarding the future of my website. Isn’t it time for changes? What should the reviews look like and how can I make them more personal? Should I continue to blog about both movies and politics? I’m starting to find my way back, but everyone’s life is full of these dark moments when you begin to wonder what the hell you’re doing. Fortunately, my little moment was about essentially silly things (even though they take up a great amount of time). Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) has real problems though in a classic Wim Wenders film about alienation.
It’s not the director’s first meditation on the subject and this time he has employed the writing of Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit Carson. The angry family dramas that are often part of Shepard’s work is evident in this story as well. It begins with Travis walking in the desert; there’s no clue to who he is or what he’s doing there. He stumbles into a gas station, finds some ice to chew… and collapses on the floor. The attendant finds a phone number and calls Walt Henderson (Dean Stockwell), Travis’s brother. Walt finds his way to the station and takes care of Travis whom he hasn’t seen for several years. As they drive home to Walt, he tries to get his brother to start talking about what has happened to him since he disappeared, but Travis thinks the time is not yet right for that conversation. The brothers begin to reconnect and Travis learns that Walt and his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) have taken care of his son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), who is now eight.
When they reach the Henderson home, the first encounter between Hunter and his father is tentative, but they soon start talking to each other. Travis is determined to locate the mother of his child and prepares for a journey to Phoenix… but Hunter wants to join his quest.
Accessible to mainstream audiences
Loved by most critics, Wenders’s film is also rather accessible to mainstream audiences who could very well identify with Travis’s isolation and attempts to strike a chord with his family. The performances of Stanton and young Carson (son of co-writer Carson) are very helpful; there is much pain between them and the age difference is huge, but both are honestly willing to make their relationship work. Things get a lot trickier when Travis meets his former wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), the family member who could easily become the villain of the piece. But their encounter, glass separating them, is fascinating, realistic and moving; you instantly get a sense of what their marriage was like.
When people talk about Paris, Texas they usually remember the combination of Ry Cooder’s slide-guitar score and Robby Müller’s loving shots of the hot, primitive Texas landscape (with Stanton a tiny detail in all the emptiness), but this movie would have been as empty as The Big Blue (1988) without a story that, slow as it is, becomes a compelling experience.
The film ends on a reasonably positive note, as Travis begins a new chapter in his life. It doesn’t matter what kind of crisis you face, insignificant (like mine) or life-changing (like Travis’s), the only way out is to deal with it head-on instead of wandering the desert.
Paris, Texas 1984-U.S. 150 min. Color. Produced by Don Guest, Anatole Dauman. Directed by Wim Wenders. Screenplay: L.M. Kit Carson, Sam Shepard. Cinematography: Robby Müller. Music: Ry Cooder. Cast: Harry Dean Stanton (Travis Henderson), Nastassja Kinski (Jane Henderson), Dean Stockwell (Walt Henderson), Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson, Bernhard Wicki.
BAFTA: Best Director. Cannes: Palme d’Or.
Last word: “We chose Harry Dean because he has that in him. He’s one of the few adults I know who is not afraid of that challenge and has kept the child that’s dead in most adults, and certainly a lot of actors, with him. He has an innocence about him, despite a long career and being 58 years old. In ‘Paris, Texas’ he and Hunter change roles: sometimes you find Travis in the position of the child and his son as the adult.” (Wenders, Scraps from the Loft)