Thursday, April 14, 2016

Paris, Texas Review




"I wanted to see him so bad that I didn't even dare imagine him anymore."


Against the desolate backdrop of a desert setting, the man simply doesn't belong there. He wanders into the frame and even his clothing doesn't add up, a sport coat, shirt and tie still affixed but dirty and worn from the environment, along with blue jeans and a bright red baseball cap. After pausing for a moment, he continues to walk and the camera statically presents a long shot of an expansive landscape with seemingly no end in sight and no signs of life in any direction. Who is this man? Where did he come from? Where is he going?

The beauty of this scene as a starting point for the story of Paris, Texas is that through silence the audience is already asking themselves questions, and yet the most important answers given aren't for any of them. The specifics of where his journey begins and his intentions of how it will end are not essential in these frames, but what is clear is that this is a man who is lost in more ways than one. What do you see when we first get a look at his face? Nothing? I would argue everything, because that nothing is something profound. There is an emptiness to him that is startling and I couldn't help but wonder if he even wanted to be found. Whether it be the reason he is out there in a literal sense or that something preceding these circumstances was the emotional causation is yet to be determined, but a tragic feeling drips from every step he takes.

The camera cuts and we see him reaching at least a tiny piece of civilization, structures erected by man rather than God, and his body gives out in the presence of humanity that can save his life. It's an early indication that his plight isn't meaningless, that there is something that drives a man that seems so hollow at first glance. His name is Travis Henderson, and he is played with subtle brilliance by the great Harry Dean Stanton, and his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) arrives at the hospital as his ticket home, back to the life he mysteriously left behind four years earlier. A life with a beautiful wife and a newborn son, and the pieces of what went wrong are slowly put together by Walt attempting to communicate with Travis on their drive together, but the dialogue is quite literally one-sided as Travis remains totally silent. We learn that his son Hunter is being raised by Walt and his wife Anne, left there by a mother who could only support a child financially but not emotionally. Eventually Travis begins to speak and the tone of his words change throughout the picture, as if he was starting over in his silence and building himself back up from whatever shattered him in the first place.




Director Wim Wenders crafted an absolutely beautiful masterpiece, and I love that Paris, Texas tells a deeply personal and moving story without ever seeming to try too hard to do so. If you are looking for flashbacks to paint the picture of hardship and loss, don't expect them because we aren't supposed to see those moments. We feel them through character and dialogue, including a sequence later in the film that takes place in a private booth at a strip club that rivals any monologue I have ever heard in cinema. I found myself leaning forward with each word that eloquently left Travis' mouth, and despite a steady cadence it was impossible not to feel the passion and pain in him as he relived such heartbreak and regret. I was being pulled in by a screenplay that hits every note with precise honesty and realism and a lead performance that delivered on the promise of those written words. Amidst an entire film that feels perfect, it's awkward to declae moments that are the best because absolutely nothing here is flawed. How can there be a best if there isn't a worst? Yet somehow Wenders delivers an experience that elevates itself from merely sublime filmmaking to a final act that is nothing short of miraculous. 

Back to that very first scene, I was instantly distracted by his hat, a shade of red that felt strikingly vibrant given the muted, lifeless world that surrounded him, and it was fascinating to witness the way Wenders filled these landscapes with color and utilized it along with lighting to tell a story within a story. If you look closely, you can spot these colors everywhere in Paris, Texas, even during scenes set in the darkness of night, whether it be a traffic light or the glow of the horizon off in the distance. When we first meet Hunter, he is presented to his father in a classic white button down shirt, a look of innocence and purity that was bestowed upon him by the only parents he knows, his Aunt and Uncle, yet when he leaves with Travis on their quest to find his mother they are matching in red, a jarring shade that is reminiscent of that hat. I can't help but believe these colors are portraying the conflict in their hearts and minds. Both Travis and Hunter are hurt by loss and abandonment, and it isn't until they have found something deeper, something soothing that seems to resolve their angst that they are allowed to bask in a mellow glow of green.




This just doesn't happen very often, and I have learned to not take it for granted. The type of cinematic experience that isn't merely "great" but one that makes you completely alter a list of all time favorites. Paris, Texas has a poetic gracefulness to it that washed over me like a calming wave, and while it bathes us in a feeling of sadness it does so with purpose and meaning. Wenders and screenwriter Sam Shepard had a story to tell and they did so with multiple strokes of beautiful perfection. I can't stop replaying the entire film in my mind, and I slow it down during that scene and remember how moved I was by that monologue. The tears that stream from her eyes as his words bring back the memories filled with pain and regret. The way each of them turns their backs to each other as they reveal their souls and we get to see the honesty of this moment resonate, allowing them to bask in that mellow glow of green.




5/5

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