Retro Review – Paris, Texas (1984)

As a preteen I was obsessed with ALIEN and always took note of everyone involved, including the actors. Harry Dean Stanton’s most oft-mentioned film credits were always either ALIEN or Paris, Texas, so when he died last year I made a point of finally hunting down the latter which had been on my radar as long as my obsession with the former.

I knew very little about the film, so when the opening credits said “written by Sam Shepard” I immediately became more interested. Then “directed by Wim Wenders” came up on screen and I was even more interested. I was pretty confident I was going to have a very good film experience. I was wrong only in that it exceeded my expectations. Paris, Texas is, in my opinion, beautiful, authentic, heart-felt, compassionate, moving and very mature: a great movie, in other words.

The movie opens with Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) walking aimlessly through the deserts of Texas, apparently in some kind of mute daze. A local doctor finds him and a business card in his wallet leads him to his brother, Walt (wonderfully played by Dean Stockwell), whom he hasn’t seen in several years when a tragedy occurred to Travis that split his family apart, and Walt has been raising his son as his own ever since. Walt brings Travis to his house in LA to reconnect with his boy and as he does so he slowly becomes himself again and wants to find his ex-wife and bring closure to their situation.

Strong writing, expert direction and great performances make this movie stand out even three decades after it was made. It’s very slow and quiet but magnetically powerful, really drawing you in to these people’s lives and teasing you constantly with just what the tragic event was that broke Travis and his family. The full revelation is held in check until the climax of the movie and it’s pretty challenging because the whole film up until then creates a very sympathetic portrait of Travis and then you’re faced with something that forces you to re-evaluate everything. For me, that is authentic, because people always have an ugly side. To ignore it in favour of a pleasant resolution would be somewhat immature and cliché, in my opinion, though the film still delivers a more-or-less ambiguously happy ending (my favourite kind).

I’m very glad I saw Paris, Texas after all these years. It was worth the wait. The writing, the direction and the performances are all top-notch, and I thought Ry Cooder’s all-guitar score was perfectly moody. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time, and proof that just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s not good. This is better than a lot of current releases.