Thursday, January 14, 2010

Paris, Texas (1984)

‘Paris, Texas’ is a stunning yet sublime portrait of the human spirit’s quest for redemption and belonging, an extraordinary film which displays a remarkable understanding of its characters and of the vast, lonely world they inhabit. Through beautifully photographed images and flawlessly executed movements and dialogue, the film manages to elicit complex and profound emotions while still managing to maintain a genuine and personal perspective of reality. Rarely are films successful in presenting a world so rich with such authentic humanity, but ‘Paris, Texas’ is unique in its ability to transcend the artistic boundaries of dramatic film-making, and will slowly but surely integrate itself into the lives of those who accept it for the quiet masterpiece it truly is.

The severely underrated Harry Dean Stanton stars as Travis Stockwell, a lonely drifter who wanders aimlessly through a spacious and empty desert somewhere in the American Midwest, endlessly searching for something profoundly important, yet he can’t quite remember what that something is. Travis is eventually discovered by his successful brother Walt, who is shocked that Travis is still alive. Walt explains to the dirty and mute Travis that he had completely disappeared for four long years, during which time he and his wife had been raising Travis’ eight year old son Hunter for him. After Travis lays eyes upon Hunter for the first time in four years, memories of love and loss flood back into his conscious, and he soon embarks on a journey to rejuvenate his long disbanded family.

What proceeds is a tale of reunion and rediscovery, where cherished memories of love and loyalty are finally restored and the emotional bonds tattered by years of loneliness and alienation are once again restored. One of the more remarkable aspects of the film is its dedication to the development of its characters; it takes its time to illustrate their often complex feelings, and the story is told through their context. Travis’ early attempts to earn the trust of Hunter are so moving and sincere that it becomes heart-breaking to see him fail. The scenes are effective without the aid of melodramatic music or phony dialogue. They exist within a solid reality, where organic human emotions take center stage.

Harry Dean Stanton delivers a brilliant performance, capturing every obscure idiosyncrasy and mannerism of his eccentric character with outstanding authenticity and style. His performance is almost haunting in its power to inspire such a wide range of emotions. His soul-bearing monologue near the end of the film is a high-water mark for character acting and the undisputed highlight of the film. It’s one of the most beautifully emotional scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing, one which has stuck in my mind months after originally seeing it. It’s such a brilliant monologue that I would feel guilty spoiling the context in which it’s delivered.

Paris, Texas is an American fairy tale of love and redemption, where the loneliness of the vast desert plains is echoed in the sprawling cities which surround them. It defies all stereotypes and genres, creating a world unique to the art of film, where the story relies not on a sequence of contrived events but on the genuine feelings and individual experiences of the characters. It’s a slow and quiet meditation on life, a subtle film of unparalleled beauty and substance. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the greatest films ever made. A new reissue of Paris, Texas will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on January 26 through the Criterion collection.