Mystery. Grand American landscapes. A pink mohair jumper.
“Paris, Texas” is full of classical cinema, mixed with the eccentric and aesthetic to create a truly puzzling, yet captivating story that you’ll never quite put your finger on.
The film follows Travis, struggling through the Texas desert, and the complexities of family relationships. After stumbling into a random gas station, Travis looses consciousness. He awakens to a German doctor in an unnerving green-lit room, shifting the film from a Western to possible horror. Assuming Travis is mute, the doctor finds a phone number to ring in Travis’ belongings, summoning his brother to the middle of Texas to retrieve him.
What follows is a classic three-act plot: a road trip; a rekindling of relationships; and a quest for a lost treasure. But this is as conventional as the films gets. The main character doesn’t speak until about half an hour into the film, there’s the massive contrast between the American location and the European film making, and the reoccurring green, blushing through the red, blue, and white of the American flag.
Whilst slow at times, the film is always feeding the viewer with its impeccable score and use of colour to set the tone. The palette of red, blue, and white reminds us of the familiar, the comfort of the American dream. We see these colours resurface throughout the film, in lines of shoes, urban scenery, and cars.
The colour green highlights Travis’ feeling of detachment and alienation as he reenters society. In moments of silence, green emphasises Travis’ lack of belonging, providing a visual narrative. As Travis returns to society and his son, hints of green reminds us that he has been gone for years. He is familiar with his settings, but he does not feel like he belongs.
When reintroduced to his son, who his brother and sister in law have been caring for, Travis has to negotiate his new relationship with him. With great sensitivity, the film deals with themes of abandonment, possession, and domestic relationships. In a sweet montage we see Travis and his son Hunter finally reconnect, teasing and imitating one another as they walk home from school. But even in this scene of connection, they walk on opposite sides of the road, displaying the distance that still exists between the two characters.
Even in his arrival to society, Travis is an outsider. He can never fully reconnect with the world he left, as despite its familiarities, it has also changed, just like his son has grown in the time since he left.
And this lack of belonging continues throughout the whole film. It is especially evident in the juxtaposition between the poetic European, and the vulgar Americana. Director Wim Wenders brings a European sensibility to the sometimes tacky commerciality of American film. In the films sprinkling of Europe we are reminded of the theme of belonging. Even the films title illustrates this, dreamy Paris juxtaposed with the harshness of Texas.
The real peak of the film is when Travis tracks down his son’s mother, Jane. When he finally confronts her at the seedy peep show club she works at, the one-way glass separating them shields his identity. It’s in this scene we find out all the missing links, finally providing context to the mystery hanging over every prior scene. He tells her a story about “these two people”, and what she assumes is a man releasing his life’s baggage, reveals to be her own life’s events. The one-way glass meant to shield her, ends up being a prison, forcing her to recall pain she had escaped. Throughout the film Travis’ perceived innocence and child like demeanor puts him in the position of victim, but in this scene we see the tables turn. The power of the one-way glass switches control, and we momentarily see a cruel, unkind man.
As the shards of a broken family reconnect, Travis must decide his place in this broken dynasty. A mother and son reunited, he must decide what is best for the people he hurt the most. In a car park shrouded in green, he looks up at his son and Jane in the hotel room above. The film ends like a boomerang, with a biblical wander returning to the unknown.
Contemporary visuals, an unidentifiable genre, and a tale forever shadowed by the strange and unknown, “Paris, Texas” is the art film guaranteed to trigger your next film binge.
Words by Liam Skillen
Images are stills from Paris, Texas.