“I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of fallin’.”
For most of its two-and-a-half hour runtime, Paris, Texas is an incredibly slow burn. Wenders takes his time setting up this tale of redemption and connection disguised as a road movie, drenched in a bold visual style with saturation levels turned up to the max. It’s a film that begins with a relatively simple plot – a guy walks out of the desert, and it turns out he has a family he suddenly disappeared from four years ago. As the journey begins to unravel on the open road, the questions start to mount, keeping the audience intrigued – Where’s his wife? Why did he leave? Why did he wander in the desert for four years?. But Wenders never strays from his continuous stream of consciousness storytelling, not tempted to have big scenes, reveals or action to speed this endless car ride up, choosing to keep everything tightly under wraps until a handful of scenes in the final forty-five minutes, where, after the first one, there is still an overwhelming sense of ambiguity, but it comes with dread, that maybe this seemingly mute, simple guy has a lot more to him.
By not succumbing to the temptation to reveal much beyond the bare details until the final act, Wenders has a firm grip on the surprise ahead and the audiences attention, unleashing the shattering revelation with an excellent slowness. It’s at this point you realise Wenders has had you in the palm of his hand the whole time, drawing you in with a slow tale to shatter you with at the perfect moment.
Paris, Texas pents up all of its energy, anger towards Travis until it pulls the lid off until one of the final scenes, letting every raw emotion rush out in an absolutely incredible scene. You can see the realisation dawn on Jane’s face, synchronised with yours, as this experience changes from just another customer to an incredibly emotional and difficult reunion, the camera scarcely straying from her face for almost 15 minutes, except to contrast the scene in the yellow-lit room with the blue neon booth that Travis is sitting in. It’s not quite a protagonist shift, but it’s definitely confronting and difficult to watch, leaving the audience hanging on every word, and an incredible way to end a film.
As many films have done since, Paris, Texas is a striking exploration of connection, complexity and secrets in some of the most seemingly empty but mysterious landscapes in the world. Despite the aching loneliness and emptiness, you know that there’s something out there, waking you “up in the middle of the night, just like you were in the room with me”.
Paris, Texas was released in February 1985.
M (infrequent moderate coarse language and adult themes), 150 mins.