In this new series of articles, our writers are watching classic films for the first time. Here, Carmen catches up on 1984’s Paris, Texas.

Paris, Texas is grounded in the endless, expansive topographies of the American West. Wim Wenders’ 1984 Palme d’Or winner opens on Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) stumbling through Texas mesas, carrying an empty gallon jug of water and little else. As he is found, rescued, and reunited with his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell), their journey takes them through desert flats and Los Angeles suburbs that stretch to the horizons. And in the film’s second half, the grids and mazes of urban Houston become the backdrop for Travis’ monumental reclamation of his voice, past, and ruined lives. The American West becomes both an impartial, amoral, pragmatic land yet also something much more magical, holding second chances and reunions for those prepared to reckon with their lost dreams.

The late, great Stanton delivers possibly his best performance as a man re-learning how to live. The script reveals Travis’ motivations and history in small increments, and Stanton anchors each choice and reveal in a logic that becomes apparent as Paris, Texas progresses. The film’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour run time facilitates a holistic, multifaceted rediscovery, from the whimsy as he reconnects with his son (an ebullient Hunter Carson) to the immobile, impassable silences on the search for his vanished wife (Nastassja Kinski, matching Stanton’s gravitas at each turn). Travis’ journey is most remarkable when it is unremarkable – his opening reappearance somehow becomes its least striking part. Underpinned by Ry Cooder’s wistful score, each odd, profound, and mundane happening feels appropriate and necessary.

Paris, Texas takes an intensely personal, everyday tragedy of miscommunication and failure and turns it into an epic meditation on family, forgiveness, and finding one’s way forward from loss. Operatic in the best sense of the word, its careful plotting and meticulous atmospheric design wholly earns its poignant finale.


Available to watch on: BFI Player


CAST: Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Nastassja Kinski, Hunter Carson

DIRECTOR: Wim Wenders

WRITERS: L.M. Kit Carson, Sam Shepard

SYNOPSIS: After Travis stumbles out of the desert after four years, he finds closure on his old life as his brother takes him home to his son.