The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Lost in the desert, a man wanders without history; but this comes to him in the form of his brother, who asks: “What the hell happened to you, anyhow? You look like forty miles of rough road.”
Written by Sam Shepard and brought into reality by L.M. Kit Carson, Paris, Texas is another of Wim Wenders’s “road pictures”; and, while it falls short of the brilliance of his In the Course of Time (Kings of the Road, 1976), also from West Germany, it has something of the same appreciation for gaps in people’s lives, the spaces that separate people, a sense of drifting, the heartache of disconnected lives. Wenders and cinematographer Robby Müller find in the American landscape an infinite expanse of loneliness—and the possibility to irrigate its aridity with wellsprings of love, self-sacrifice and reaching out. At last, here is a film that mends one’s heart after breaking it.
The protagonist is Travis (Harry Dean Stanton, at his best), a man who brutalized his wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski, phenomenal), abandoning their three-year-old son, Hunter, who has been raised by his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell, giving as beautiful a performance as an ordinary man as he elsewhere gives playing freaks), and Walt’s French-born wife, Anne. Travis assumes custody of Hunter, in the end returning the boy to his mother, who currently works in a peep-show parlor, before returning himself to the desert alone—as John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) puts it, forever riding between the winds. American cinema’s only comparably moving reunion of mother and son would come two years hence, in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
The strains of Ry Cooder’s score suggest the fragile nature of human lives that the film poignantly essays.
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