Monday, April 18, 2011
Paris, Texas. (1984) Wim Wenders
Weary, dizzy, and bone-dry dehydrated, a catatonic sunburned bearded stranger steps out of the Texas desert into a bar. He's been wandering in the scorching sun, apparently going nowhere, headed for a destination perhaps long forgotten. But for what he needs now, alcohol will not suffice. If he can't find some water in this dingy little dive there's really no question that he will die.
He stumbles across the darkened room to an ice box to quench his thirst. His dry, dusty mouth is quickly relieved in crunching the cubes, but immediately upon swallowing his body falters. He crashes to the floor and passes out. Upon waking, he's under the care of a cigar toting German doctor who finds his ID and makes a phone call to his brother in L.A. We learn he's been missing four years. His brother comes to collect him, but by the time he gets there, the wanderer is gone, traversing the desert terrain yet again.
Working with only the first half of a full script and shooting in chronological order, Wim Wenders, in these opening scenes where a man tries to help his drifting brother, draws us patiently into all the themes that will gently unfold in this story of a man who trails back to his lost son. It's the Prodigal dad returning home from a mysterious wasteland of the heart. Then again, it's the Prodigal husband who recklessly wandered away, leaving the ruins of a relationship in the dust. The desert can be a physical place, but it can symbolize an interior condition, too.
Travis, the bearded wanderer, will soon be shaving and meeting his eight year-old son Hunter for the first time since the boy was four. What happened during those years is anyone's guess, but Hunter has been staying with his uncle, the brother now saving Travis, meaning Travis will soon be reintroduced to his boy. But picture an eight year-old who already has a daddy and mommy, being introduced to a man that they're both hailing as long, lost dad.
In a cute scene capturing eight year-old Hunter trying to come to terms with all this, he explains to a friend how he now has two dads. "Who is that guy? You know him?" asks his friend. Hunter: "Yeah, he's my father's brother... No, they're both brothers... No, they're both -- they're both fathers... Aw, just forget it."
It will take some time for the two to fully bond, and there is still the question of the past four years, the desert wandering, and the missing mom. What happened to her? What actually happened to them? What is that awful event that Travis won't talk about that brought them to the point of losing their son? The bonding continues, and the two begin working toward some answers, but not before we meet a screaming, mad prophet standing over a highway insulting the traffic flowing below. In one of the greatest scenes in the film, this soapbox traffic-hating apocalyptist comes from out of nowhere, like a fire-breathing turn-or-burn preacher on acid. His sermon seems to launch Travis and son on a road trip to their source, and Travis will finally give his story as a reflection in an isolated confessional. There are believable, tender, heart wrenching scenes at the end of this story. Bring some Kleenex. You have been forewarned.
Paris, Texas functions as a place where land is owned, but it is ground no one in the story has been on. The idea reminds me of the words of another Wenders title, Faraway, So Close -- We're not always meant to be together, and some mistakes can't be undone. Restoration isn't always possible; we can only do our best with what we have, living daily to take care of the present. Paris, Texas feels more like an idea than a title or a location or a purchase of land. The film of this title is like a longing for home, but perhaps it's a place we can't go.