Paris, Texas

(USA 1984)

I wasn’t sure what to make of Paris, Texas at first. It opens with a twangy Ry Cooder slide guitar playing as some grubby dude in a tattered suit and a red baseball cap wanders through a desert in the American Southwest. Carrying only a plastic gallon water jug, he stumbles into a gas station bar and passes out. When he comes to, he’s in some town hospital– a sad, one-room affair staffed with a lone German physician (Bernhardt Wicki)– and refuses to speak. Insert eyeroll here.

This man, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), has a brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who comes from Los Angeles to a dubious rescue. Slowly, it is revealed that Travis has been M.I.A. for four years. He had a family and a life, and lost everything except a plot of land in Paris…Texas, that is. Walt reunites Travis with his son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). After an awkward adjustment, Travis and Hunter hit the road in search of wife and mom Jane (Nastassja Kinski), who sends Hunter a check each month from a bank in Houston even though she no longer speaks to him.

I love this film, and I can’t come up with anything negative to say about it. Written by playwright Sam Shepard, adapted by L.M. Kit Carson, and directed by Wim Wenders, it’s closer to perfect than any other film I’ve seen in a long time. The story is beautifully simple, and unfolds poetically (as corny as that sounds). The characters, on the other hand, are anything but simple; they’re flawed, searching, frustrating, and real. So much happens without a lot of action: the small, quiet events that transpire here are big, magic moments of truth. The desert scenery, highways, and big sky are more than just a stunning backdrop: they reinforce themes of loss, redemption, and sacrifice that surface throughout the story. Absolutely timeless and flawless.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) A+

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