Paris, Texas ★★★★★

My Top 100 Favorite Films - #12

Last Friday (September 15), legendary actor Harry Dean Stanton passed away. He might not always have been an actor who got the recognition I felt he deserved, but his presence in a film would almost always mean that I would love the film I was watching. Be it Alien, Wild at Heart, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or even his small cameo in The Avengers, he would always be a stamp of the quality present in the film I was watching. So this review should be considered a belated tribute to Harry Dean Stanton, as well as Sam Shepard, who passed away earlier this year, since he wrote the screenplay for this film.

Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas follows Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), who we first encounter walking through the desolate landscapes of Monument Valley. He is silent for the majority of the first half of the film, and he seems unable to remember anything about his past. We learn through his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) that Travis has been presumed dead for four years, time in which Walt and his wife Anne (Aurore Clément) has taken care of Travis' son Hunter (Hunter Carson), who was abandoned at their house by Travis' young ex-wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski). As Travis spends more time on the road, he begins remembering things about his past, good as well as bad, and he slowly forms a bond with his estranged son.

Wim Wenders' direction and Robby Müller's cinematography is downright amazing here. Travis' surroundings complements his emotional state brilliantly. We see that the open, empty landscapes, often presented through wide shorts, displaying the emotional void within Travis, which had caused his flight to Mexico in the past. These empty landscapes end up representing Travis' desire to escape. We also see that the more Travis remembers, the more often he is accompanied by cityscapes and civilization, and these civilized surroundings end up representing what he's trying to reconnect with. An example of this is Travis and Walt's trip to L.A. to reunite Travis and Hunter, through which Travis gradually opens up about where he's been to Walt, the closer we get to the city. Another example of this is when Travis and Hunter leave L.A. to find Jane in Houston, as their venture into more desolated territory makes Travis come closer to realizing what man he was in the past in why he fled in the first place. Masterful directing and photography at display here.

The acting all around is solid from everyone involved, which is helped further by Sam Shepard's strong writing. While this is primarily Travis' story, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clément and Nastassja Kinski all deliver excellent performances as well, as we also see their inability to (re)connect with Travis, which is performed with utmost conviction. In the case of Kinski, who only shows up in the latter half of the film, it was absolutely brilliant to see such a strong performance come in by the end, when Jane and Travis finally seem to come to terms with their past selves and realize their love for each other and Hunter, as well as the apparent impossibility of all three being together. Harry Dean Stanton also delivers the performance of a lifetime here, as his subtle, visceral acting carries all of Travis' emotional weight with great restraint, and he is not shy to shine an optimistic light with Hunter Carson in their scenes together, which brings some levity to the gravity of the film's drama. It was a truly compelling performance that had Stanton showing his wide emotional range, and his chemistry with Carson could make me forgive the child actor's somewhat wooden delivery.

Paris, Texas is a film I recommend for anyone who has had that desire of wanting to escape from everything, be it because of the past or what the future might bring. It's a masterly directed and shot film that truly encapsulates the emotional burdens of its main characters, who are all performed brilliantly by a strong cast accompanied by an excellent script. R.I.P. Harry Dean Stanton and Sam Shepard.

Patrick liked these reviews