It would be fair to say that, as a viewer, I’m pretty wary of watching films that I think will push me out of my comfort zone. Preferring to sit on the sofa and doze off to one of the Harry Potter films than actually try something new that might broaden my intellectual and cinematic horizons, I often refuse point-blank to watch anything that might be considered a ‘cinematic masterpiece’ for fear of actually having to absorb information and unravel cultural references that I can’t make sense of. This being said, when I semi-reluctantly turned up at the first Film Society event of the year with the intention of having a few drinks with my friends and pretty much ignoring everything that was on screen, I found myself inexorably pulled into the strangely beautiful story of Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas. After sitting with my eyes glued to the screen for the full 150 minutes of running time, I had to conclude that it was on of the best films that have ever seen. Here, in as intelligible a way as is possible, I will try and explain why.
The film opens with ragged but determined man wandering through the desert, like a modern-day John the Baptist. He finishes what is presumably the last of his water, and looks behind him at vultures in the cloudless sky, before continuing on to a run down bar, where he promptly collapses. This opening could be mistaken for a surrealist dream sequence. The wide-open plains and endless blue sky looks like the backdrop to a Dali painting, and you can sense an absence of time; we don’t know whether this man was been walking for one day or a thousand, and he doesn’t seem to know either. When he awakes and is rescued by his brother, one might expect to find out more about the unknown protagonist but information is held back yet again, and with each tiny detail comes an onslaught of questions; what has Travis (the wanderer) been doing, what happened to his wife, why did they abandon their child Hunter suddenly four years previously?
Some films will provide quick answers to such questions, and conclusions that neatly sew up the seams between each character, but Paris, Texas is not one of them, and perhaps this is the key to its beauty. It may be a morbid curiosity about the events preceding the film that keeps viewers hanging on at first, but by the time you do get some answers to your questions, you are too tangled up in the web of subtly nuanced relationships to care. The films flits between being wonderfully laughable and tragically heartbreaking, all the while communicating through stunningly perfect, almost photographic, cinematography.
Paris, Texas is not a film that I would place in my comfort zone; one could argue that comfort is not a box it aims to tick. Yet as it wanders though its story much like Travis wanders through Texas – calmly, unpredictably and without a clear destination – it weaves a tapestry of the tragic beauty of family, love and life. It never resolves itself, and fails to end with the usual overarching knowledge that all of the characters are on a path towards happiness and competition but, perhaps, that is exactly the point.