Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) has been wandering in the desert for some four years at the beginning of Paris, Texas, and it shows. His suit is so begrimed with dust that it’s hard to tell what color it originally was, and in his eyes is the look of a man who does not know where he is, and does not want to know.
When Travis stumbles into a convenience store and collapses a minute later, we still do not know who he is or why he has ended up there. It will be quite a while before we find out, too.
In the first act of Paris, Texas (screenplay by Sam Shepard), director Wim Wenders gives us only a minimum of exposition—and a minimum of dialogue, for that matter. Instead, he allows the film’s stark, beautiful images, courtesy of cinematographer Robby Müller, and evocative music, written and performed by guitarist Ry Cooder, to ease us into the story.
Travis’s first line of dialogue, “Paris,” occurs more than half an hour into the film. He speaks it to his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who has traveled to Texas to retrieve him. He is not referring to Paris, France, we learn, but instead to Paris, Texas, the town where Travis believes he was conceived and where he has purchased a vacant lot. For Walt and his wife, Anne, Travis’s sudden appearance is particularly jarring because after his disappearance, they took in Travis’s son, Hunter, and have been raising him as if he were their own son.
In the second half of Paris, Texas, Travis and Hunter, who have gradually formed a bond as father and son, embark on a journey to find Jane (Nastassja Kinski), Travis’s ex-wife and Hunter’s mother. Travis’s motives for wanting to find her remain unclear until a brilliantly-filmed—and acted—scene involving a one-way mirror that stands as one of the greatest moments in Wenders’s long career.
—Tyler Petty, from his blog Faces Unveiled