The Deconstruction of American Dream
Wim Wenders opens Paris, Texas, with a nostalgia shot of Travis wandering the West Texas desert, emphasizing the Hollywood myth. After four years of absence and amnesia, his brother hesitantly reunites him with his son, Hunter. Hunter is only eight years old and lives with Travis’ brothers in Los Angeles. Both immediately embarked on a journey across the State of Texas in search of Hunter’s mother, Jane. They soon tracked her down at a strip club in Houston, Texas. However, what happened next was a broken family portrait. Therefore, Travis attempts to try to reunite his broken relationship with her. L.M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepard wrote the screenplay together, centered on Travis.
Having disappeared four years ago, he is a man who set out to reunite his family. Loss, alcoholism, and poverty tore him apart. The film is unique and becomes a study of the meaning of the father figure as an anti-hero. However, it set out to be a classic Western hero who fell into American modernism. Wenders examines post-Cold War America through his fatalistic exploration of the protagonist’s decline from the expectations of the American dream. In 1984, Wenders won the Palme d’Or, the perfect excuse to revisit the classic arthouse western. The cult of the film in cinema circles is not surprising. The provocative commentary about the American dream becomes a film about family construction. It is also about the nature of memory soaring with tragic melancholy attached to an arthouse.
A Trip to Houston
The victory of Paris, Texas, was for Travis to hand over his son to his mother. It will come as a heartbreaking tragedy; all the characters have a clear understanding. It is a plan the characters can accept, despite acknowledging self-determination. The bottom line, Travis has every right to try to fix his family. In the opening credits, it appears in blood-red capital letters, implying the film is horror material. However, Travis’ appearance of silence and expression hinted at a quiet moment. When he meets his son, the awkwardness between the characters suggests further potential danger. Travis tries to fake Hunter coming home from school.
He would also always put Hunter in his back bed without a seat belt on the highway. On the other hand, he would leave Hunter in an empty hotel room. When the boys arrive without a scratch, there are hints of harm to the child, no more than the end, leaving the boys for a defeated woman who works on a peek show raising him. Harry Dean Stanton is one of the character actors that the audience loves the most. The rest of Stanton could not even get an Oscar nomination. Stanton, Cooder, and the film got the Academy Awards out of the way. At least, the audience recognizes the film as the best film, including the specific moment that does not fit the category. In such cases, people must wear a badge of honor.
The plot of Paris, Texas, continues to capture the nostalgia of moviegoers and Hollywood myth. For many people, the film can be characterized as relatively flat. Far from being a perfect film, it is long but slow and sprinkles with many flaws when dealing with its heavy themes. An unsettling aspect of the film is Wenders’ one-dimensional depiction of Jane. She relies heavily on the superficial aesthetic of the manic dream girl trope. However, the audience also knows that she is Hunter’s mother and Travis’s ex-wife.
Financially, castration work as a peek show stripper has supported her. Despite the many tragedies inherent in reality, one could say that she is one of the most compelling characters in the film. However, Wenders is not interested in delving further into its complexities and nuances. He is wholly drawn to superficial cliches. Viewers see the film only through such a lens. At such moment, it gets glimpses and snippets of character only through the narrative of Travis’ gaze. Only in the last various sequences does he make room in scenarios where he permits an empathetic and emotional agency.
Sense of Nostalgia
Fashionably, Jane continues to be at the forefront of various fashions. Many fashion designers also use Jane and her character designs as inspiration. Speaking of costume designers, Bjerke styled her in a classic sad mohair sweater. While coupled with shoulder-length disheveled hair and dramatic kohl eyeliner, her character is striking at first glance. However, her character captivates the shadow of Wenders’ preoccupation with Travis. Another problem that is so pervasive in the fiber of the film is the romanticization of everything when it comes to dysfunctional relationships.
The loss of nostalgia plays an important role and becomes a factor that does not waver in the film. What Wenders got right was not a complicated storyline. More precisely, it is a story about universals. He highlights the idea that underscores that people can fragment and locate memories. Through the storyline that broke, Wenders showed various ways. He uses nostalgia as a manifestation of himself. It is so extraordinary from the film, being an examination of the universal sadness that audiences feel. When the things of the past finally fade, the same human refuses to let it all go. The nostalgic driving theme becomes the film’s sensory, not only in the fashion style but also in the score, color palette, and cinematography.
Speaking of Jane, Paris, Texas, presents exploitative nostalgia of women as symptomatic of the commercialism’s Hollywood myth and visual culture in such a critique. As many frames as Travis describes semi-explicitly, finding himself bobbing in the landscape. The landscape meets advertising signs and images repeatedly realign the desert landscape. For example, the billboard, created by Walt for a living, became one such projection of a desert landscape. Travis also wanders the landscape spoiled by the ugly visuals of commercialism. Therefore, Travis and the film’s audience traverse such a world of images. Watching the film accompanies Travis as Wenders sends him into the desert, the iconic landscape becomes emptiness and death, epitomizing the myths of Hollywood.
Despite offering reading, it frames Travis in desert isolation in the context of a failed household. Even for Wenders, the death of the Hollywood myth became a clear civilization. In the course of Wenders’ work, it lies between the filmmaker’s efforts to maintain his belief in iconic Western landscape images. The filmmaker believes that contemporary Hollywood cinema has impoverished the image and limited its potential meaning. Two years before the release of Paris, Texas, Wenders said that he continued to feel nostalgia, physical sensations of Hollywood myth. He seemed to be on a cable running from the screen to every seat. Good cinema takes people out of control; for example, John Ford puts the audience on top with the people on the screen in incredible openness.
Paris, Texas is a burning nostalgia of Hollywood myth, slow pace but barely three hours. Audiences hear only the first bit of dialogue after the first half-hour. Such elements frame fail but can fail as well. If Wenders did not use the element to create a sad tragedy, he would always shoot a character on long walks across the barren desert. The film only shows the character driving on the highway or even staring at the reflection of the character’s identity through the window or mirror. In such silence, the photography achieves a feeling of nostalgia through a tapestry of sensory images. The color palette is muted but sprinkled with bright colors that wash off with water. It makes characters stand out in expansive yet wide shots.
In such an early sequence, Travis lost prominence in the vast desert with his bright red baseball cap. In such an extraordinary cinematic moment, Wenders turns the act of filmmaking into a plot device. He tests Travis’ memory when he shows the reels of the Super 8 film with his whole family on the beach one summer. After suffering from amnesia, he rediscovers his love for Jane one by one. The scenes remain a classic cinematic sequence because of the timeless depiction of human memory. On the other hand, the soundtrack creates the backdrop for Travis’ story on the minimalist side. Ry Cooder mixes old western songs, borrowing from Ranchera’s grim guitar ballad. The melodious guitar tone is present throughout the film, haunting Travis like his ghost from the past.
In the film’s argument, what is at risk in the Travis crisis is not just the individualistic heroines of the American West. However, it served as Wenders’ cornerstone in classic Hollywood cinema. In such a shot, Wenders consciously expresses his anxiety over visual culture. In essence, commercial images have mushroomed. The self-styled loner from Wenders road-trip films is a flashback to the films he watched during his youth. Inspired myths, especially the American dream, create classic cinema widescreen narrative styles. A simulated media culture that has lost touch with myth and character will threaten the roots of Wenders’ cinematic vision.
In the film, such a potential image symbolizes the tattered image of a vacant plot of land carried by Travis among his possessions. When he showed the picture to Walt, his brother said nothing was there. Travis replied with a strange and pleasant appreciation of emptiness. For Travis, the vacant lot was a place of actual loss. Travis’ mythical potential is helpful for him and Jane to be able to live with Hunter in the landscape of a united family story. Thus, the potential of the empty landscape in the photo loses its potential. Like bits and pieces of the map, the tattered remains equalize the film’s illusion through the city’s name and the film’s title. In such a blend of imagery, illusion threatens to empty the landscape of its potential. After all, fantasy and illusion are the nature of cinema.
Wenders depicts many common motifs explored visually to produce a melancholic yet wholesome cacophony. Each element bounces off one another, removing much emotion from the audience. Despite this fact, Wenders portrays his character in the light of disability. He did not hesitate to show the sadness of such a situation. His dialogue is short and honest but develops in rare instances when it reflects real life. In the final sequence between Jane and Travis, Jane says that she wants to see Hunter but does not dare imagine him.
Using simple dialogue and getting to the point, the scenario creates a realistic yet tragic monologue between the characters. Despite Jane delivering the best lines in the film, the deep sadness ends on a bittersweet high note. It makes the audience feel a very vivid and natural feeling of melancholy. In the end, each artistic element brings together the pastiche, convincing from its frenetic nature to nostalgic memories. In such a description, Travis left Houston, but the audience had no idea where he had gone. He had told Walt and Anne that he would reimburse them for expenses such as the car. However, that does not mean he has to return to Los Angeles. Although not in Texas, Walt and Anne still chose to let nature run its course.
- Barthes, R. (2014). 9 Myth Today. Ideology.
- Desiderio, M. J. (2011). Wandering: Seeing the cinema of Wim Wenders through cultural theory and naturalized phenomenology. Temple University Graduate Board.
- Wenders, W. (1997). The cinema of Wim Wenders: Image, narrative, and the postmodern condition. Wayne State University Press.