Travis Henderson has been a driftor for years but now he has returned and wants to try and reconnect with his family, including his son who is being raised by his brother.
This is exactly my sort of small film. Its minimalist in all but length. The cast is small, the story is small, and the stakes are small. Even the tragedies are small, affecting only one or two people negatively and not at all in a permanent way. All things that would normally leave a movie with its thumb out looking for viewers to pick it up.
However, I’m going to judge “Paris,Texas” on a different metric because the emotional movements of the heart along its path is is one of the best I have seen in a film for quite some time.
It doesn’t leave me feeling excited to tell my friends about it. It doesn’t make me want to go home and rewatch it that night (as did “Mishima”). It makes me want to really know myself and be.
In the film, Harry Dean Stanton (“Alien”) plays Travis who walks out of the desert as if being born to the world. We don’t get any explanation of who he is, where he has been, or why he has come out of the desert into civilization.
Slowly we learn that his son has been in the care of his brother for basically his entire life and that his brother and sister-in-law think of him as their son. I don’t want to get too much into the weeds of the situation for fear that I might ruin any revelations that come to light but this is a film where you can’t just say, “well he should go to his dad, right?”
His dad is a deadbeat as far as anyone knows and no one is exactly sure as to the status of the kid’s mom but it is super confusing to a child to live with the guy they have always known as their father (but is really their uncle) while forming a close relationship to their biological father.
This quandary is where this film lives. It unravels the lines which make up this relational knot slowly, not with the subtlety of the solver of a Gordian Knot, but with mysterious unfoldings of emotion. Facts are not what drive the decisions here. The heart is. Where will this kid end up? Who is the mother and where are they? Will Travis run back to the desert? None of these are as satisfyingly answered as we may be accustomed to from Hallmark and Lifetime movies.
Decisions are driven instead by the emotional needs of the various characters. For this quality, “Paris, Texas” rings true. Luckily, Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire”), the director, was working with some of the most exceptionally gifted actors in the world. For a movie in which so much of the movement is internal, the actors need to really embody and live out their characters with complete abandon, not caring about how they look or will be perceived personally. Allowing your raw emotion to come to the surface for anyone who happens to pick up a DVD of your movie to see is a scary and dangerous thing. Bravo for some wonderful and sublime performances that required far more, I am sure, that what appears on the screen. They truly make the film what it is in many of the most intense scenes.
I truly believe that this is a film which many need to see. It’s exploration of community, individual sacrifice and selfishness, and family purpose may not have all the answers but it asks some poignant questions in ways that cut through many of the guards we put up around our souls for protection. It slices to the meat of our beating heart and asks it to try feeling differently for a couple hours and discover something about who we are and what we believe about those subjects.
“Paris, Texas” doesn’t entertain. It simply lingers and sticks in you long after it has ended.
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