Setting in Paris, Texas
At its core, the movie Paris, Texas is about a man’s failure to make connections with other people. Travis has been unsuccessful in his marriage to Jane, he has wandered off from his family, and he ultimately gives up trying to reconnect with Hunter, his son. One of the ways director Wim Wenders indicates this struggle in relating to others is through his use of setting in the film. Furthermore, the places of the film provide a general look into who Travis is as a character.
The film begins with Travis emerging from the barren desert. We can see from his dusty clothing that he is meant to be seen as a weary traveler, but the desert landscape around him provides us with his internal character. The desert, as with most movie deserts, is a barren wasteland. It is unwelcoming and lifeless. The desert location represents Travis’s isolation. Given what we learn about Travis later on in the film, we can see that he has been left so alienated by his relationship with Jane that, internally, he feels as dead and unresponsive as the desert around him. He does not want to be a part of any human relationships at this point in his life, so he has taken residence in an uninviting location to discourage interactions with others.
We never actually visit the area of Paris, Texas in the film. Travis discusses it with his brother, showing him a photograph of a plot of land in Paris. The area of Paris in Travis’s photo is as empty as the desert from earlier, but Travis does not see it that way. Travis views the open land of Paris as a place of peace and innocence. In a way, Paris is a Garden of Eden location to Travis, because Travis began his existence there. In Travis’s mind, it is a place that exists outside the boundaries of his tumultuous relationships. This is why he purchases the vacant lot in Paris and carries around a photograph of the location. He wants to keep some connection to his earlier, simpler life.
Later on in the movie, Travis takes his son Hunter on his mission to find Jane. They navigate the complicated highway system in Houston. At one point, they must make a decision about which red car to follow. The difficulty in keeping up with Jane’s car, as well as the complicated twists and turns of the highway, represents Travis’ inner conflicts. Travis is caught between his desire to be a good father to Hunter and his fears of parenting. Travis feels as though Jane would be a better guardian, but he still feels reluctant to leave Hunter a second time.
Perhaps the most important place in the movie is the building where Travis speaks to Jane. He speaks to Jane through a telephone across from a two-way mirror. Jane cannot see Travis, even though he can see her. This room is a very strange place to have a meaningful conversation, but the room is meant to represent how fragmented Travis’s personal relationships are. Travis and Jane, due to their unsuccessful marriage, are estranged and alienated from each other and from the rest of the world. The wall that divides them apart acts as a physical representation of this alienation. Jane is unable to see Travis, in the same way that she could not understand his odd behavior during their marriage. Travis must use a telephone to speak to Jane, even though she just on the other side of the two-way mirror. The convoluted nature of this medium of communication shows how difficult it is for Travis to open up to people.
Throughout Paris, Texas, the characters move through a variety of extreme locales. We see immense desert landscapes and equally unusual smaller locations like the room in Jane’s workplace. We can see, however, that the locations are not an arbitrary, random mix of settings employed to amuse the viewer. Wenders heightens the extremity and strangeness of these settings to highlight Travis’s internal difficulties.
Wenders, Wim. Paris, Texas. 20th Century Fox, 1984. Film.
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