The first time I watched Paris, Texas, the only thing I knew about it was the hype surrounding it. I didn’t know anything specifically – just that it was a gem of a film, and that I should check it out. With that limited knowledge in tow, I went into this film, emerging out the other side changed by what I had just watched.
I had heard of Wim Wenders as one of the best filmmakers to come out of Cold War-era Germany, which really surprised me, since the title of the film can’t really get much more American. I was also rather surprised that one of the film’s writers, the late Sam Shepard, was the same man who starred as the father on the Netflix drama Bloodline, and that he was an award-winning playwright; while the late Harry Dean Stanton, who plays the protagonist Travis, also played the character of Carl Rodd on Twin Peaks.
With all that talent (and more) together on one film, it’s no wonder why this film is so damn good.
Paris, Texas follows Stanton’s character Travis Henderson, who is trying to find his wife after disappearing for four years. After being found in the middle of the Texas desert, Travis goes to live with his brother (Dean Stockwell) and his wife (Aurore Clément). The couple have been raising his biological son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), and after forming a bond, Travis and his son head off back to Texas to find his wife (Natassja Kinski). For two and a half hours, Wenders takes us on a trip as we travel alongside the quiet Travis, piecing together the mystery of what caused him to disappear.
What stood out the most to me has to be Harry Dean Stanton’s excellent performance as Travis. He operates his character with such restraint, forcing us to yearn for the answer to Travis’ disappearance. Whereas other actors might make Travis come across as a blank, one-dimensional caricature, Stanton fills him with many layers, making him a man who is hurt by the past but at the same time expects no forgiveness for what he’s done. I also want to point out Hunter Carson’s performance as Travis’ son, who also turns his character from what could be the generic archetype of the young, naive kid and making him wiser than he could’ve otherwise been.
The film’s script also proves to be a highlight. Sam Shepard and L. M. Kit Carson (who also happens to be Hunter’s real-world dad) provide a script that never needs to include lengthy monologues in order to pack a punch. While the film does contain an amazing monologue towards the end, the script really shines with the smaller moments, never trying to come off as overtly emotional.
The score and the cinematography combine together to create a hauntingly beautiful tone. Several shots from the film, particularly the last shot of the film, will be stuck in my head forever. The score itself creates a sad, lonely atmosphere fit for contemplation in the desert. Together, they create the definition of bittersweet.
Overall, Paris, Texas is an emotional, introspective movie that will leave you with a sense of sadness and a craving for steel guitar.
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