Why Paris, Texas is My Favorite Movie About the Lone Star State
There are so many iconic movies about Texas. Everyone has a favorite, usually for reasons that are deeply personal.
You may share a few of my favorites:
There's one movie that will always take my top spot when it comes to movies about Texas, though: Paris, Texas.
It's like an old country song come to life.
The plot is simple enough. Travis (played by Harry Dean Stanton in perhaps his greatest film performance) is found wandering in the West Texas desert, and his brother, Walt, flies out from California to get him. It takes a while for Travis to snap out of a fugue and explain that he's been wandering for four years in search of Paris, Texas, where he'd purchased a plot of land.
In California, Travis reunites with his son, Hunter, who's wary of Travis until they watch some old home movies together. Travis and Hunter then head back to Texas to track down Hunter's mother and Travis' lost love, Jane - played by a mesmerizing and tragically beautiful Nastassja Kinski.
I don't want to get into spoiler territory, but the end of Travis' journey is so beautifully written and performed that I get a little misty-eyed every time I watch it. It's like an old country song come to life.
The movie was directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, who decided he wanted to make a movie about America after visiting her for the first time. Thankfully he chose Texas, probably because he'd seen so many Westerns and understood that the American West symbolizes not only freedom, but people in search of themselves.
We see West Texas, Houston, and the road to California and back through the lens of a West German falling in love with the Southwest, and I think that's what makes the movie's visuals so stunningly gorgeous. The movie may take place in the early 1980s, but it looks and feels like a Western, with concrete canyons and highway trails leading into dusty sunsets. Even the shots of Houston make it look bigger than life like everything in Texas.
It also shares a theme that runs through all the best Western films - a lone man who ran from his past now has to confront it and sacrifice something significant to make amends.
I don't know how much more I can write about the movie without giving away so many of the things that make it surprising and fulfilling the first time you watch. All I can tell you is that it's a movie that never leaves you, like an old country song you heard on the radio on a night when you really needed it.
We lost Harry Dean Stanton back in 2017, and though he's more well-known for his character acting parts and his return to Twin Peaks the year before he passed away, I'll always remember him as Travis from Paris, Texas and Bud from Repo Man. The two movies were released in the same year and show what a fantastic performer Stanton was.
If you feel like adding it to your collection, I highly recommend the Criterion release. It comes with a beautiful art book with production notes and interviews that explore the themes of the movie and why the Texas and Southwest settings were such an important part of telling this story.
What's your favorite Texas movie?
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