A Paris, Texas Review: The Warmth of Companionship and the Comfort of Solitude

Paris, Texas is a film I have struggled to define and, in the end, gave up and called it its own thing, because I realized that there is nothing quite like it. Is it a road movie? Sure, you can argue that it is. Travis is at the beginning a lone wolf cruising the cruel deserts of Texas, and at the end, cruising the even crueler roads of civilization, still as lonesome as ever with perhaps a bit more of appreciation for the road and its unavoidable seclusion. Is it a western? Maybe. Ry Cooder’s incredibly bluesy scoring coupled with the deserts these films are usually set in and other story elements might allow it to be identified as such. Is it a character study? Certainly. What we are presented with in the opening scene of the film is a vagabond who had wondered for so long that he has no distinguishable traits any longer, and what we are awarded with throughout the film and towards the end of it is a deep and thorough profile of a man who had endured the hardships and notions of the modern world to the point of exhaustion and was willing to endure more were it not for what one might call fate and unfortunate circumstance. But still, none of these genres or definitions seem to do the film justice, they are too limited, too narrow for a piece of art that its own runtime can barely contain.

Paris, Texas starts with Travis reuniting with his brother Walt after four years, with the latter taking him back “home” to L.A. to meet the son he had abandoned when he disappeared all those years ago. Four years is a half boy’s life. Travis keeps his lips sealed for a long time before he suddenly utters the word, “Paris”, just when his brother was getting fed up with his silence. Their conversations then start from casual chitchat to the eventual tackling of everything that went wrong four years before. Travis reunites with his son, Hunter, and upon finding out that his old lover, Jane, is somewhere in Houston, they set out to find her together.

For the sake of this attempt to dissect and analyze this film, I will be splitting it into three parts.

The first being the part that extends from the first scene where Travis is voluntarily stranded to the point where he abandons his attempts to dive back into the wilderness and accepts the taming of those around him. This act of Paris, Texas presents the audience with a hollow and shattered Travis, a man cleansed from the normativity of the modern world. A child. A pure and empty vessel. Whenever his brother tries to introduce him to any aspect of civilized life, he obeys and latter escapes. No sign of vitality or strength, the only left within him is a deep longing for the peace of solitude. What made him abandon his attempts to escape may be no more than his brother’s annoying persistence, it might be a show of affection that he thought he would never witness again, or simply hope.

The second part of the film and the buildup to one of the strongest finales in all of cinema sees Travis re-learning to interact with a world he once a part of. Whereas Walt and his wife, Anne, meet him with genuine and concerned warmth, his son’s behavior could only be dubbed cold. Here one point is emphasized and that is the importance and value of family and of the parental bond. Travis and Hunter’s relationship inevitably develops, slowly but beautifully, it pulls Travis back from the depths of hell and offers him the warmth of family, but at the same time threatens to take that away from Walt and Anne. Travis and his son are walking on two separate sides of the road, but nonetheless, they walk towards the same destination.

Up to that point, the character of Jane is introduced as an undesirable topic of discussion and a fleeting image in a Super 8 tape, but upon learning her location, Travis and his son set out on yet another road trip to find her, and family. Finally alone, you would expect the two to interact more intensely than before, and they do, mostly non-verbally however and in a more touching way than ever. Upon reaching Houston, the two set out to find Jane immediately and once they do, it is not the reunion they were anticipating. It is slow, it is non-conventional, it is therapeutic, and it is heart-wrenching. What Travis and Jane come to is a twisted sort of remedy, and a compromise that is theirs and not bounded by any outside laws. Travis finds family but it feels undeserved, and he settles for atonement. The penitence of the lonesome road.

Paris, Texas is an epic poem dissolved into a brew of gorgeous scenery and serene melody, with subtle symbolism and refined taste and directions. It is masterful filmmaking, lyrical storytelling and human universality. A feat for the eyes, for the soul and for the heart.


You might also like these articles: