Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell
Director: Wim Wenders
Set against the untamed, dry landscape of Texas, and scored by the strains of the slide guitar, Paris, Texas is a quintessential film about America, made by a foreigner.
A man wanders out of the desert, dusty and silent, and walks back into civilisation. Travis (Stanton) has been missing for four years, and is reunited with his brother Walt (Stockwell), but at first refuses to talk, only trying to keep on walking. He wants to see Jane (Kinski), his estranged wife, and Hunter, his young son who hardly remembers him. But all three are split. Jane is working in a peep show and has left her son behind with Walt. Travis heads on a road trip to bring his wife and son back together, and heal the rift between them all. But is his place back in civilisation? Or does he belong in the wilderness?
This is a beautifully shot and scored film that takes in the wild deserts and places of Texas as we follow Travis. It’s also a film that gave Harry Dean Stanton a wonderful lead role, and allowed him to showcase his talents. Here, he is a wasted, quiet man, broken by his past, who literally walks out of the landscape as though he is part of it.
He is juxtaposed against the relatively conventional person of his brother, Walt, who lives in a house, and has a wife and everyday suburban problems, and who has done a good job in providing Hunter with a stable home. Travis is a dreamer and an outsider, and though in the course of the film he starts to speak again slowly, and to communicate more, culminating in a long story told to his wife through the one way mirror at her job, you sense that he thinks in a different way to everyone else and can never truly be happy and belong in conventional life. At least, not after the break up of his marriage and his four years in the wilderness. In that sense, he’s rather like the heroes of the old western films, who appears out of the dust, but can never really fit in the mould of society, so he leaves after setting things right.
Not only a western, but a road trip film, from the wilds, through his family and their lives, through the American western landscape, to his own redemption in a hotel room, reuniting his son and his wife.
Perhaps you can see this film as an exploration of American masculinity, or a love letter to the western film genre, but it’s also something more, too. A drama that’s mysterious, a love letter to a place, and also a look at the destruction of a family, and how redemption can be found, healing can take place, but everything can’t always be the way it was.
See It If: One of Wim Wenders finest films, and the best role that Harry Dean Stanton ever had, it’s a fine drama and one that will leave you feeling quiet and reflective. Beautiful.