Movie Project #9: Paris, Texas [1984]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Paris, Texas [1986]

Paris, Texas [1984]
Director: Wim Wenders
Genre: Drama
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell
Runtime: 147 minutes

A lot can happen in four years.

Desperate to get away from his past, Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) wanders mysteriously through the Mojave Desert. When we see him, he doesn’t look well. He is wearing a weathered suit jacket and tie with a worn-out red baseball cap on his head, and he has a scraggly beard that looks to not have been touched in months. Upon stumbling into an old dusty saloon, Travis searches for water before settling on a handful of ice cubes. He puts them in his mouth, begins chewing, and promptly passes out.

Paris, Texas [1986]

When he comes to, he is in a nearby hospital. A German doctor has sifted through Travis’s supplies (essentially just his barren wallet) and finds a phone number. A quick call goes out to Travis’s brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), and he drives out immediately to pick up his long-lost sibling.

It takes a long time for Travis to begin talking. Once he finally does so, we learn that he suffers from amnesia, often having difficulty putting pieces of his memories back together. He has been missing for four years after he got up and left behind his wife and toddler son without them knowing. He has a penchant for the town of Paris, Texas, which puzzles his brother. There are a lot of question marks surrounding this startling development, and the film follows Travis as he begins to re-connect with his past.

Paris, Texas [1986]

Paris, Texas is a slow and brooding film that places a heavy emphasis on dialogue and character development. Some may take issue with the methodical pacing, but it’s hard to look away from the beautiful cinematography, and to also focus on the incredible acting from all involved. Many claim this to be Harry Dean Stanton’s finest performance, and this is not a point I will argue. The child actor who plays Travis’s son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), does remarkably well at showcasing the uncertainties of developing a relationship with a father he doesn’t remember. Still, special mention must be made of Nastassja Kinski, who plays Travis’s long-lost wife, Jane. The scenes where the former lovers finally confront each other, behind a one-sided mirror, are among the most heartbreaking I have seen.

Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, and it has developed a bit of a cult following since then. It’s hard to promote the irrational behavior of someone such as the character of Travis Henderson, but the film does a tremendous job of keeping us interested anyway. I can’t say I connected to the film as much as some of its more vocal supporters have, but this tale is one I will certainly not be forgetting.


Interesting bit of trivia: This was the favorite movie of both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith. It was also a major influence on U2’s seminal album, The Joshua Tree.