Why is it that doomed love stories attract us so much? Why does the heart-wrenching feeling of complete abandon and total meltdown feel so familiar and thus so welcome, like a warm blanket, that’s ultimately knitted in thorny threads of human inadequacy? It feels both wholly and damaging, pleasure and pain intertwined. It’s not the happy endings, it’s the car crash relationships that ultimately stimulate our being and make us feel alive and ready for love even though it will always end in defeat, the most excruciating kind. Why? Because that is where true humanity lies. The imperfections that make us perfectly misaligned. That is why a film like Paris Texas moves us so much.
What do we ache for when we know there’s little substance to the dream that we long for? We long for moments. Painful moments of real feeling, of real passion that manage to chase away the doubt for a moment and pierce through the mundane. For a moment. It is the exquisite pain of being in a couple, of sharing a glance, an understanding that there was once, a long time ago, something of deep tenderness, a symbiosis that almost made the pain bearable. What is love, if not excruciating pain? It is the damage done; the damage experienced from which we grow. Paris Texas is the perfect example of that type of relationship. It is a beautiful film about damaged people who have tried to catch a ray of sunshine.
Paris Texas is a film about how painful love is. Yet one might argue that it is not about real love at all. It is a philosophical study in perceptions of love, projections of love. Real love does not exist, it is just projecting imagined meanings on the other, where evidence of such has been scarce. We never fall in love with real people, we only fall in love with the idea of them, idea enhanced by a few moments clustered together in memory, moments that just made us feel divine, once. Or if we’re lucky, twice.
Travis’ father planted the idea of a certain kind of love in his head from an early age, projecting the sophistication of a Parisian origin onto Travis’ mother. The camera also tends to agree, fleetingly, when we see the memory of the mother as depicted by the portraits in Walt’s house. She was a beautiful woman, even sophisticated. Travis’ goal, as it is revealed to us, is to find that love. His journey, past anger, his inadequacy at being a family man, in love with a beautiful woman, his violence towards Jane, his estranged wife, are all hidden from the audience until the pivotal moment of confession, moment that comes like “a punch in the heart.”
Travis’ love comes as anger towards the object of his desire. This stems not only from a frustrating inability to express himself (until the very end) but also from the insecurities he cannot rise above. Love is an obsession for him, an all-consuming force in Travis’ life that drives him to self-destruction, in one of the cruellest, most beautiful and most tragic love stories ever put on film. Jane cannot fit into the mould that Travis has designed for her. He is the damaged anti-hero that has to take himself away for the benefit of all those around him.
For the viewer, Travis is a puzzle. We don’t learn until the very end the extent of his damaged soul, but that is often the case with the people we fall in love with too. He gets under our skin, and as viewers we go on this journey of discovery with Travis. We learn to care about him as we see him care about his family, especially his precocious son, Hunter. His dedication to him and to finding Jane has an aura of sainthood on it, or nearly so. Underneath we know that this character we are presented with is as damaged as we are. But we fall in love with Travis, because he is us, only a bit braver, a bit more reckless, a bit more violent.
The happy ending does not exist here, just like it doesn’t exist in real life. The idea of a happy extended family for Hunter lives on only in the Super 8 clip that is shown to the audience. It is an alternate reality where glimpses of perfection exist, because, just like dreams, they’re just moments of bliss, with no anchor in reality.
The film is almost a flawless exercise in redemption as well as in forgiveness of oneself. One hopes Travis can find peace within his own heart and not blame himself anymore. He should instead blame the poets and the romantics:
I blame the Poets
It’s the Poets I blame
For the hope
For the sweetness of the bitter
I blame them
For the tiny shards of what’s left
Of my heart
I blame them
For what’s left unsaid between us.
I blame THEM
For what I don’t deserve
For the unattainable
I thank them.