“Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”
― Hermann Hesse, Wandering
A man appears. He is Harry Dean Stanton and he is dressed like an American. A Biblical vision in baseball cap, he has come from nothing and seems to be heading nowhere. Think of The Searchers and you’ll find some idea of what we are talking about. He does not speak and he will not explain. So begins the first of what is really three strange movies, braided together in wild rhythms, and not entirely cohesive. But these are the pure stuff from which cinema is made.
Paris, Texas is mythology, but it is the kind of mythology that shrivels beyond the grubby shine of a one-way mirror: the miraculous gone to everyday. Eventually, the desert becomes Los Angeles, that tamed ramshackle universe of low-lying aircraft, and silence gives way to the gentle patter of family life. Travis is the man’s name, and even the act of name-giving destroys the eternal, somehow. He has a son. He has a life, captured in crackling home-video. It’s amazing to see and understand just how disconnected this family environment is to the landscapes of the American West. Wenders was German, and there were no deserts in his childhood. He points the camera like a man confused and bewildered, Texas standing in for Eden, replete with brothels and roadside motels. Thus, everything feels like a revelation: bluffs, rock formation, endless scrolling horizon, highways, dust-bowls.
But family is the same everywhere. There are no national distinctions between men and women and their children. They continue in happiness, or perish in miseries and fall apart. Domestic strife goes on everywhere in the same forms, and Wenders has captured it in beauty and understanding. Travis left, and now he has returned. Soon he will be gone again.
The film clambers to a wonderful monologue, a burst of exposition, where we have Kinski’s face and Stanton’s voice. And this, really, is Kinski’s film: from the moment she emerges, beauty and fire, she is the focal point, and we wonder how two such people came together. The answer is glimpsed in a miraculous superimposition of faces on a mirror, man and woman become one; mother, father, husband, lover, prostitute, vagabond, Paris, Texas.
And the promises of those two worlds are misrepresentation: worlds of romance, worlds of emptiness. But such an unlikely place, we remember, actually exists: a vacant plot of land, where a life was once conceived. It is to be expected that Travis returns there, become vagrant again, once he has reunited mother and son. And, like him, we all dream of that great expansive wandering when things start to fall apart, or when we have completed our life’s work. There’s nothing out there, but everything to yearn for. To walk, simply, go into the grand interiors, alone and purposeless, is immensely romantic, more so than endless filtered visions of Paris, the city of lovers. Could we walk far enough, and how long would it take, really, for former lives to be washed away? How much time must pass before memories falter and split? How long in beautiful desert heat before everything is gone?
One final note: the score is perfect. The film would collapse without it.