Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Paris, Texas" (1984) - Movie Classics

A film titled “Paris, Texas” is mystical enough for any film lover if they know any better but they would also begin to wonder whether they chose the wrong movie some forty minutes into it. Not because it lacks the momentum but it gets us irritated on this silent character (Harry Dean Stanton) in the beginning. Right from its aerial view of the southern Texas desert till its final frame of downtown Houston in the background, it is a film of something unlike any movies I have seen, because I have not seen the films of Wim Wenders.

This wandering nameless man is with full beard, sun burned, exhausted and dehydrated in the desert. He stumbles and knocks down unconscious in a gas station to be woken up a doctor. He does not speak. Not because he is not able to but he does not want to. Soon the doctor finds something on him which points to call a number. Walt (Dean Stockwell) is on the other end of the line surprised, shocked and unable to properly react after hearing the news. He informs his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) that his brother Travis is in some remote town in southern Texas. We are also informed that Travis disappeared on them four years back. And no he is not in the town of Paris, Texas.

Travis tests the patience of his brother Walt and his audience. He restrains from speaking and any form of body language. He completely shuts off communication and Walt is understanding about it. He carefully asks what happened and Travis simply is unresponsive. He does not stare away, rather looks right through the eye of Walt and leaves emotionless. Something has died inside of him and it is beyond anger, hate, sadness and least of all happiness. Walt does not know what to make of this.

Walt manages to get a response out of Travis finally and after that it is another battle to get him to LA. Walt and Anne has been taking care of Travis’ son Hunter (Hunter Carson) for the past four years. Travis meets him and reacts to him. Hunter is told the truth that Travis is his real father but he does not know the reaction to this situation. All these happen in our world, the world where drama is not something to be poetic about. Here the drama does not happen. The drama is simple, expected and very real.

In between all this, we are haunted and kept impatient on the secret of this four years which has pushed Travis to be wandering alone and walking dead in the unexpected part of the country. This is not a suspense and that is exactly director Wim Wenders tells when he keeps the film to this character being silent and denying all forms of explanation to those lost years from the face of the life he once had. Walt has almost given up hopes on finding Travis and Jane. Anne is worried that they need to part ways with Hunter whom they have raised as their own son. There is no drama in that either.

Anne informs Travis that Jane was in touch and sending money for Hunter which prompts him to leave again. He tells Hunter about his plans with whom he has reconnected in the beautiful unadulterated emotional way. Hunter is a smart kid and a prospective geek. He decides to join his dad. Somehow he seem to know that his family is not in LA. Not much tears needed to inform that to us. These are the effective serious but casual scene shifting Wenders gets into. Soon enough we do not care about the four years mystery and are totally focussed on this father-son journey and their hunt for Jane.

“Paris, Texas” then reaches out and hugs you very slowly and presses against itself. The warmth is tender, understanding and safe. This is a film which knows its audience like a mother towards her child. It lets them wander away and be restless. It does not tease rather keeps ignoring and conditioning with silent treatment. And when we understand what we are here for and whom we are caring for, it wraps under its presentation. The distinctive powerful guitar strings of Ry Cooder vanishes after that and emerges back during the last drive we see of Travis in the film.

Eventually Travis meets up with wife Jane played by Nastassja Kinski and in other films the situation of Jane would be a cliche that is asked to be sympathized. Wim Wenders makes it about the characters and not the surroundings. When Jane and Travis finally talk, the film lets out and goes into uneven emotional trips. Everything about Travis’ behaviour gets a new light and we do the most basic and quintessential act in a film, empathize with the characters.

Never even aware of Wim Wenders I began watching this film. I loved the manner in which the titular location is kept at bay of being visited and not happening at all. The performance of Harry Dean Stanton is as Travis, mystical. He appears dangerous when we first meet and then dissolves into this state of calmness, coldness and sudden flow of care. When he smiles, the whole world appear to be elated and his odd speeches on his parents is a poetry by itself. “Paris, Texas” begins as an experience then becomes an experiment and finally into an emotional lyric for Ry Cooder’s tangiest and cracking guitar strings.

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