A man is wandering across a great expanse of desert with no destination in sight. He's very obviously not dressed for this kind of activity. He nearly dies from lack of water.
And the sky is very big and the horizon is always very far away.
I remember not liking the movie Paris, Texas when I first saw it over twenty years ago. I don't think I made it through to the end. The film moves very slowly and at times you wonder if anything is really happening, but that is an important element in the story. It is something I understand on a much deeper level at this point in my life than I could have twenty-five years ago. Sometimes only time passes while you struggle with memory and the sense that there is something very important you need to do.
Harry Dean Stanton is not often cast as a film's male lead, but here he is all that and more. For almost the first half of the movie he is the film's only meaningful character. At times during the first half of the film you wonder if you are watching some alternative version of Rain Man. It is never quite clear exactly what is wrong with this guy Travis who insists on walking across the desert looking for some empty lot he has a photograph of. Does he have some kind of disability? Is he mentally ill? Is he a psychopath?
Becoming completely detached from your life, the only one you ever knew, is by design a disorienting process. It is also incredibly painful. You expend more energy blocking out memories than you do searching for new ones. That pain becomes you because it is all you have left.
Travis is forcibly reunited with his former life after being picked up by his brother. He doesn't resist this reunion, but mostly because he doesn't have the energy or will to resist. After detachment and pain the fight eventually leaves and all you have is surrender, whether to the elements or to something else entirely. In bits and pieces, slowly coming together, we begin to get a very unfocused picture of the life Travis left behind.
Moments of clarity, resolution and simple answers are so often used as devices to drive a movie. Those moments are used to make the audience feel good. Those moments are not found here. You won't find any of those romantic comedy cliches where suddenly everyone realizes their conflicts were silly and now everything is going to be better than it ever was. This movie is too powerful for that. And it is too real.
There is a payoff, and it comes in one of the greatest scenes and greatest monologues in movie history. Two people separated by glass and insulation. Two people who love each other more than any two people ever could. Two people once so close, seen earlier in the film on old home movies, who now cannot so much as touch, or even look at each other. More pain in one scene than anyone could bear.
"I knew these people... these two people..."
A film by Wim Wenders
Starring Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski
Other than the kid, none of the other actors really matter. Trust me.
Lock up your guns and your whiskey before watching this film. You don't want to be tempted.
As The Custodian points out, the soundtrack is also most excellent.