Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas ★★★★★

There will be no safety zones. I can guarantee you that the safety zones will be eliminated!

The myth of America is built on dust, bones, ghosts, and time. It is broken treaties and stolen land. It is a bedrock stained crimson washed over by centuries of sediment and negligence. The myth of America is of a land ripe for the taking, a manifest destiny, that was never ours to take, only to steal. When the land was usurped through bloody conflict, torture, and forced displacement of the indigenous peoples, we brought in Africans to build on the bones and ash; that which remained.

The myth of the frontier is the myth of America. It is the national story of rugged individualism; going out West - that mythical imagined land, unspoiled by civilization (ludicrous in its blindness to the rich histories of the civilizations that called it home for millennia) - and molding it to our hands. The Lincoln Logs that litter the classroom floor in kindergarten, a narrative residue of Western ingenuity and craftsmanship. It is, quite frankly, bullshit, as compelling and self-affirming a myth as it is.

In one of the parts of Noah Caldwell Gervais' sprawling travelogue he discusses a gruesome but true story of murder and cannibalism. A man brutally massacred five of his traveling companions and ate them. The 'man eatin' son of a bitch' has his now century and a half-old crime commemorated by a cheap placard sandwiched between two seasonal vacation homes. After all, the crime is buried under layers of rock and moss and dirt and, most importantly, time. Crimes that old are trivial in the American imagination. They aren't worth much dwelling. And, if they are, it is as a cheap commodity to be packaged, shipped, and sold. A grotesque gift-shop as it were.

We don't much like to think backward in America. At least, not toward the bad parts. And, if we do like to think backward, we like to pretend there are no bodies gathering maggots in our perpetually-locked closets. Inherent in the recent resurgence of that tired campaign slogan, once birthed by isolationists, now cannibalized by fascists, is the idea that the America that once was, was better and more moral; that it offered ripe opportunity for a subset of the population which has dried up and withered on the vine. The truth of the matter is that those opportunities have dwindled for everyone and those existential maladies have been misdiagnosed.

The myth of the American frontier is hollow and vacant. It is corroding structures of limestone sat atop plots of dust and false promises. It is barren and built on the bones of cultures and peoples either shuffled into containment zones, dispersed among the invading nation, lost to time and antiquity, or murdered. This is why Travis floats like a ghost from town to town, lost in a vast landscape with no language, with no memory, with no name. The promise of life anew, a carte blanche for his sins and his suffering, is hollow and vapid. He wanders in a catatonic, aphasic stupor, unable to fulfill the 'dream' of the self-made man who starts from a patch of dirt and builds an empire, before returning home to the truth of the American Dream, or any peoples' dream: love, connection, a home, and a family. The land beneath our feet cannot bring us happiness in and of itself because it is not ours, it never was ours. So, he returns home and, as he is thawed by the boy, he becomes human again.

Wim Wenders' tale of love and isolation is one of the most acutely observed images of the vast tracts of America precisely because of his foreignness to it. He can see clearly what, for us, has become obscured by sand and glitzy, sanitized studio imagination (and concerted efforts to exclude it from textbooks). It is among the finest films about America ever produced because it understands the great tragedy of America better than America understands itself.

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