Wings of Desire. Paris, Texas was all directed by Wim Wenders as well, in 1984. I loved Wings of Desire - it was one of the most unique movies that I watched for the project, and I just was in awe of it. I imagined that Paris, Texas would be equally as interesting and different. I had often heard that it was similar in theme to The Searchers, a favorite movie of mine, and that just made me even more interested in this film.
I was not disappointed. I could see the style that I fell in love with before. The emphasis on dialogue and character. The main character, Travis, reminds Ebert (and I) of the angel in Wings of Desire - "He loves and cares, he empathizes, but he cannot touch. He does not have that gift" (Great Movies II, 318). There was a really interesting restraint to the whole movie, and I loved that it mostly just focused on dialogue and story, and didn't try to add in action or anything just to make things exciting. I love that Wenders knows that just the characters are enough.
The movie is about Travis, who has been lost from his immediate and extended family for years. After wandering in the desert, he collapses. His brother comes to get him, and he takes him home to his wife - and to Travis' biological son, Hunter. As his brother tries to reunite Hunter and Travis, Travis realizes that he needs to put his life back together and understand what happened between his wife, Jane, and him, that drove him to such grief. After bonding with Travis, they both set off to find Jane, so that they could all be reunited.
I could see why this movie was compared to The Searchers. Ebert also brings up Taxi Driver, pointing out that "the buried theme in each case is the need to save the woman from what is perceived as sexual bondage. All three heroes--those played by John Wayne, Robert De Niro and Stanton--are somewhat misguided in their quest, not quite understanding the role of the woman" (Great Movies II, 320). I have liked this theme in both other movies, and I loved it in Paris, Texas. I like that we have to question the actions of the hero. So many stories have men saving women, but in these, we ask ourselves if what he is doing is heroic, or just self-serving.
I know for a lot of people that dialogue-heavy movies like this can be sort of boring, or at least they can sound like a bore. I loved this movie because I loved that the characters were so well-written and interesting that you wanted to hear every word of dialogue. The characters were so real and fascinating that even though there was not a ton of action, I was totally engrossed in the plot. I wanted to hear their stories and their feelings, because I was so interested in them. I loved the incredible scene when Jane and Travis meet, and they speak through a glass booth over the phone. As they each tell the story of their lives and their relationship, they turn their backs - they struggle to be honest with each other, and cannot look at one another as they speak. I felt like they didn't want to see any reactions. They wanted to be heard, not interpreted or interrupted, and creating that little artificial distance seemed to help them. I could be reading into it a little, though.
The whole film was beautiful to just watch. The colors really popped, and the Texas landscape was really showcased. I really enjoyed all of the shots of gorgeous vistas, and I felt like I could have just looked at the scenery for a while. Somehow, though, it never felt like....hmmm, I don't know how to say it.....it never felt like purposeful cinematography. It reminded me of Wings of Desire, how the whole tone seemed curious and observational. I wanted to just lay back and be taken on a journey though the character's psyche, and taking in the landscape around them is just part of my observations.
The film isn't fast-paced or action-packed. It's driven by the slow pace of the protagonist as he puts his life back together. I loved it, though. I liked the slower pace, and I liked watching all the the emotions and hearing the fascinating dialogue. I just felt so drawn into the world of the characters. Ebert mentions that the movie is a fable, like Wings of Desire, and I agree. It's not concerned with the realistic questions of what Travis is doing. Is it right that he takes Hunter to be reunited with his mother? I'm not sure, and it doesn't matter, because this isn't about reality. It's about the characters, the journey, the emotions - not if actions are practical or right. The movie is streaming on Hulu, and also on Showtime On Demand, for those of you who have that channel. It's really worth a watch.
Have any of you seen Paris, Texas? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Paris, Texas
Buy it on Amazon