Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas ★★★★★

A funny thing happened the first time I watched Paris, Texas: I didn’t like it. Well, actually, that’s not really true. What happened was that I didn’t like it at first.

In total, Wim Wenders’s empathetic portrait of loss, family, and Americana utilizes 147 minutes of run-time. In my book, that’s what we call a long film. And for the first 117 of those minutes, I had written it off. It wasn’t what I thought it would be (though I couldn’t have told you what I had thought it would be). It was slow and quiet. Our main character, the mysterious, wandering Travis, barely uttered a word. I felt as if I wasn’t in the know. What was this film about? Was it about the mystery of how Travis ended up in the desert, emerging out of the dusty landscape like a Biblical figure in a baseball cap? Was it about his brother and his brother’s wife, who dutifully raised Travis’s son when Travis didn’t? Or was it about Jane, this lost, angelic figure who haunted home videos like a dream? I didn’t know how to reason with all these disparaging threads. Maybe they weren’t supposed to come together, I thought. Maybe it’s just not for me. And then, somehow, seemingly out of nowhere, a miracle happened.

If you’ve seen Paris, Texas, then you know the miracle I’m referring to. And if you haven’t, I won’t risk spoiling it for you. It is something you need to experience firsthand, and I couldn’t do it justice with words, anyway. But during the film’s final 30 minutes, everything changed. Whereas before I was tinkering with things, tidying up, and twiddling my thumbs, all of a sudden I was on the edge of my seat. I don’t remember breathing. It wasn’t a shocking revelation that peaked my interest, some last-minute twist that blew my mind and re-contextualized everything I thought I knew. No, it wasn’t that at all. It was something as simple as a monologue (perhaps the best monologue in film history). And it all came together.

When the end credits rolled, I noticed I had been crying. I remarked in my head about what a great ending it was, and continued with my day. I gave the film 4/5 stars. Yes, the end was great, but I didn’t know if it fully redeemed my feelings of listlessness that I had experienced for the first two hours. I moved on. Or, I thought I did. Because then, a second funny thing happened: I could not stop thinking about it. For every day for a month after I finished the film, I thought about it. About Travis and Jane. About the reflection of a man’s face in glass. About a red hat and a pick-up truck and the crackling of a tape recorder. And as that month went on, I began to think about Paris, Texas like I thought about my favorite films of all-time. And then, one day, it became one.

So I watched it again. And everything was as it should be. From the opening aerial shot of the Texas landscape to the final glow of headlights on a late night highway, I was enraptured. There was none of the listlessness, the confusion or boredom that I felt before. It was as if I was watching a home movie, all hazy and warm and so, so intimate. I started to cry within the first 30 minutes and it never quite stopped. When the final scene came around this time, it didn’t feel like a sudden illumination, but a continuation of everything that had come before. And when it finally ended, I knew something that I had long been suspecting: that Paris, Texas just might be the best film I've ever seen.

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