By Owen Russell | Contributor
Recently, the Cardiff University film society screened Wim Wenders’ 1984 classic ‘Paris, Texas’ for the weekly society viewing. When I sat down, my knowledge of the work was somewhat limited: a man with amnesia, and the image of the blonde woman in pink. As I left, the main idea that connected and resonated with me: the personal, universal need to escape.
Iconic shots of Harry Dean Stanton’s Travis, the isolated drifter, staggers endlessly onwards across the vast and intense Texas landscape. He is accompanied only by Ry Cooder’s score with its Western twangs that are so conventional of the genre that, combined with the desert imagery, encourages debate over the film’s true genre.
No one is seen in the film’s opening shot: an aerial view confirms just how lonely the impossibly large Texas can be. Travis eventually stumbles into a bar and falls unconscious, where he is found, and his brother is called. Travis is introduced to us mute, our protagonist remaining almost silent for a good 20 minutes of the film, allowing his mystery to build.
Dean Stockwell’s Walt, brother to Travis, operates in an entirely different world. The desert abyss shifts to the endless buildings and industry of Los Angeles. And so, as the narrative truly begins, he briefly enters the country void to reunite with his brother and bring him home. Positioned alongside his wordless brother, and acting as an informant to the audience, we learn that Travis has been on the road for four years, presumed dead.
Travis then explains that he has no memory of his time on the road, allowing the film’s developing mystery to begin. We learn of the life he left behind, a young son (Hunter) and a wife (Jane). Walt tells Travis that his son has been living with Walt and his wife in LA. So the audience starts to question: why did he (Travis) leave? What happened to his wife?
The introduction of Travis’s son, wife, and brother to the story allows for one of the main themes of the film to come to fruition: family.
The introduction of Travis’s son, wife, and brother to the story allows for one of the main themes of the film to come to fruition: family. His son seems to represent the consequences of the drifting, which Travis – in his amnestic wandering – seemed to avoid. When Travis asks if four years is a long time, Walt replies: ‘Well, it is for a little boy. It’s half his life’.
Despite having seemingly neglectful parents, abandoned by both his father and mother; a somewhat positive family dynamic is still presented through the surrogate family of Walt, his wife, and Hunter. Whilst Travis spent four years searching for meaning, Walt’s family lived in reality in Los Angeles. However, when they are finally reunited, the relationship between Travis and Hunter is wholesome, with Travis sweetly trying to win back his son’s affection.
Somewhat European in style, Wenders combines this with the vast American landscape, so visually and spiritually integral to the ideals of the American dream. I feel it’s this unique combination that allows for a truly timeless masterpiece.
Travis remains compelled by his need to escape, quickly leaving on a quest to find Jane, but this time with Hunter. Aiming to return to life in a family, Travis is always in conflict with his years spent in solitude. The motif of duality features heavily: family-man or nomad, society or nature. Europe and America are also placed in opposition – even in the name Paris, Texas, the film is clearly influenced by both. Somewhat European in style, Wenders combines this with the vast American landscape, so visually and spiritually integral to the ideals of the American dream. I feel it’s this unique combination that allows for a truly timeless masterpiece.