We peer through the camera lens into a vast desert. You can feel the heat as you float above it, blanketed by its loneliness as a blues guitar echoes all around you. You are overcome by its size, beauty, and wonder. We can see so far that it is impossible to tell how far, far is. Everything we see is repeated: mountains, red clay canyons, and space, limitless, empty, space. Then we see a hawk land and finally, a man in a red cap. Why is he walking in the middle of the desert by himself? We don’t know. We only know that he is dirty, thirsty, bearded, wearing a red hat, and a shabby suit. Welcome to the world of New German Cinema. A brand of film whose beauty is only bested by the terrible agony of fated pain and realism with which its viewing imparts on you.
New German Cinema began in the 1960’s when a group of West German filmmakers decided that artistic excellence was more important than commercial success. With an eye to the French New Wave movement that came before it, New German Cinema, eventually gave us three of the greatest directors of the twentieth century: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, and the director of this film, Wim Wenders.
The film’s protagonist is played by, umm, that guy. You know, that guy. He’s in everything and he has a catchy name. Come on, you know who I mean. Harry something… Yeah, that’s it, Harry Dean Stanton, one of the best character actors in movie history. Here he plays the lonely, mute, wanderer, Travis. Travis is retched, he’s destitute, and he has no future. We know he has a past. Anyone who looks like Travis, has a past. But what is it? You can guess and maybe even come close but Paris, Texas is not the sort of movie where everything you expect to happen, happens. Instead, you watch, you let the story unfold, your mind goes quiet because the film has you, it feels real, and if reality were so easy to guess, it wouldn’t often be so terrible. Sadly, it is frequently terrible, isn’t it?
If I have not made it clear yet, Paris, Texas, is a haunting film. It has no killers, no violence, and no crime. It’s not a horror or a thriller. Its affecting nature comes from its realism. The beginning of the film engrosses us in the vast lonely terrain of the American desert and the small towns that exist in and around it. The middle of the film reminds us of a past that cannot be escaped nor fixed. The end of the film shows how you can redeem yourself in some small way for the sins of your past but that happiness, in the form you want it, will never come and you will be left as you began, alone and headed nowhere.
Have you ever been in love? I’m sure most of you have. Did you ruin it? Did you become a person who now, looking back, seems unrecognizable? Have you ever wanted to go back and fix it? Have you ever felt that urgency that stirs somewhere deep inside that tells you to do and risk anything and everything to make things, right? Have you ever reached the place where your brain just clicks and a moment of pure clarity follows? Except, you don’t find the answer you were hoping for. Instead, you realize that there is nothing you can do. You know that no amount of begging and pleading, guarantees to be different, promises that you have changed and that you are a better person, can ever change anything. Life is over for you. You feel death, you feel loneliness, you feel the vastness of that empty void— a void that was once filled with what you thought your life would be. Now it’s hollow and dark. The only thing left to do is wander. That is Paris, Texas.
Review by Timothy White. Follow him on Twitter @TipToTheHip.