Parts, Texas is another country. There's not a farm in sight, or a church, or a place for politics or prayer. But the consequences of those earlier scenarios are clear. The children of Waxahachie, or wherever, have indeed moved to L.A., where (like Robert Benton, I suppose) they sell advertising images and talk about real estate. Those who cannot make it in this new America wander aimlessly in the desert--literally--trying at the same time to remember and forget the past.
Sam Shepard's screenplay for Wim Wenders creates an American nightmare set between anomie and nostalgia, those grim suburbs of the postmodern mind. Shepard is expressionistic, violent, mysterious; Wenders sniffs the tacky trivia, the twisted sexual psychology and the big skies of the Sun Belt like a German Shepard. Their approaches are expressed in the movie's two principals: Harry Dean Stanton, who plays an utter fool for love adrift on the Southwestern sands; and Nastassja Kinski, a sexy cat person holed up in an onanistic emporium in what purports to be Houston but looks much more like Hamburg.
It's not easy to figure out what's going in Shepard's plays or Wenders's movies: that's both the gimmick and the charm of them. But there is enough mood and mystery here to make up for the lack of a conventional story line. Part of the premise is the tension between two completely dissimilar brothers, which Shepard used in True West to illustrate the unfinished American war of gentility against violence, remembrance against forgetting, cities against plains, the present against the past. Stanton is the rugged one in those dualties; his brother, played by Dean Stockwell, the wimpy one.
At some point in this long struggle, Stanton takes his young son away from his brother's home and sets out in search of. . . . But this is not a Leonard Nimoy expedition to an extraterrestrial landing strip or a haunted motel. Father and son are looking for mother, love and connection: that is, the abstractions that make German idealism and American expressionism so popular with film buffs and so tedious for audiences.
Paris, Texas has its sentimental moments, but for a while it offers a refreshingly downbeat perspective on a country otherwise caught up in patriotic self-congratulation and stuffed with family values. But even allowing for its Texas scale, too much of that is enough.