This week's theme is love, the pre-eminent catalyst of actions smart and stupid from throughout the history of narrative fiction. Some may say that it is the most intense emotion that the human mind is capable of processing, and it remains the focus, conclusion and driving force behind a vast spectrum of genres as a result of both its infinitely relatable nature and universal appeal.

From crime to horror, is there not a genre wherein love, or the lack thereof, does not function as the consistent cause for dramatic progression? The love between fugitives Kit and Holly drives them to a killing spree in Badlands (1973) in the same way that the search for love sees Shigeharu descend into the horrors that Audition (1999) has in store for him. Though the depiction, handling and role of love is drastically different across these two films, and by extension all films that concern love, it is the central concept that they orbit nonetheless.

An endlessly broad term, love appears in all shapes and sizes and colours and tones throughout cinema history, and directors are finding increasingly inventive ways to present the idea of love to their audiences. Take Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer (2009) for example - it may not be the most subtle or particularly vital love film, but there is no doubt that it effectively repackaged the concept for a brand new audience that had previously thought love un-cool, and made Fox a lot of money along the way.

Fig i: Paris, Texas (1984) Dir: Wim Wenders


With the idea being so subjective and endlessly interpretable, it is of course unsurprising that every film that concerns it will treat it differently. Love is equally the cause for pain as it is for joy, and will drive both men and women to the ends of the earth and the ends of their lives. Where Silver Linings Playbook (2012) features love as a redemptive force, Atonement (2007) sees it as the ultimate downfall of its characters, and where Grease (1978) interprets the idea in a traditional, all-American sense, Harold and Maude (1971) sees fit to throw all perceivable convention out of the window.

I eventually settled on Wim Wender's 1984 film Paris, Texas for two reasons. Firstly because Wenders' film is one that interprets the idea of love in an incredibly stylistically interesting way, but also because I believe it to be a piece of cinema that chooses not to define a singular type of love, but instead explore the idea as a feeling and a state of mind as opposed to a catalyst for change.

The film concerns Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), returning from the wilderness after four years missing to be reunited with his estranged eight year old son (Hunter Carson), and eventually with Jane, the Childs absent mother (Nastassja Kinski). Wenders explores the love between father and son, mother and son, and mother and father, in a lyrical, deeply considered manner, and if your dad has seen it then it's probably his favourite film.

The specific scene I have chosen comes towards the end of the film, wherein Travis and Jane meet for the first time in four years, through the one-way mirror of a strip booth she now works - Travis can see her but she cannot see him. The scene is aesthetically composed to demonstrate the simultaneous intimacy and isolation of their love, one that once held them together but ultimately drove them far apart.

Fig ii: Jane and Travis are featured in the same shot, with only the mirror separating them.


Fig iii: Jane realises it is Travis on the other side after recognising the story he tells.


Fig iv: Travis and Jane become visually reconnected, joined through a shared identity created by the mirrors reflection.


In Figs 1 through 3 we see the gradual aesthetic progression of the scene. Initially, Travis and Jane are separated, the mirror acting as a barrier between them, but as Travis tells Jane the story of their relationship, she realises it is him and the third incredibly surreal frame demonstrates them once again as a defining element of one another, both visually and metaphorically. These two characters are undeniably a pair of connected souls and Wenders depicts them with this in mind, as he literally connects them as one composite individual.

Visual space and the idea of distance both play an integral role in the cinematic portrayal of love in Paris, Texas. Where above we see the space between the once lovers reduced to nothing, we have previously seen immense, vast space between them, and over the course of the film Robby Muller's cinematography consistently establishes space as the visual symbol for love.

Consider the below images (v & vi), our first introduction to Travis during the film's opening scene. He wanders the desert alone, the camera far away so that his figure is dominated by the landscape around him. Similarly in Fig vi, we see Travis attempting to once again disappear into a vast landscape, his desperation to be alone extending to the presence of the audience, as he walks away from the camera.

Fig v: Travis walks through the desert, the landscape engulfing him.


Fig vi: Travis is once again completely dominated by the visual space around him - he occupies a smaller percentage of the screen than a mountain far off in the horizon does.


As you can see, the use of space throughout the film transitions from extreme distance to impossible intimacy as the love between the characters emerges again after years of dormancy. Travis walked the deserts and fields of rural Texas because, as he explains to Jane through the mirror, "He wished he was far away, lost in a deep, vast country where nobody knew him, somewhere without language, or streets". When Travis and Jane are separate we see the world as a terrifyingly empty void, where landscapes overpower everything and somewhere that, though beautiful, seems like a scary place to exist. However, when they are together we are presented a warped symbiosis, something that has the right intentions but clearly shouldn't be.

At the end of the film, Hunter is reunited with his mother, and they embrace and both are happy. Arguably this final reunion between mother and son is the ultimate form of love that appears in Paris, Texas, and certainly the only form of happy ending the narrative features. However, the previous two and a half hours concern the doomed connections between Travis and Jane and Travis and his son. Travis is without doubt a damaged man, though full of love regardless. He was once a good father and partner, with plans to settle down and build a house for them to live in, but it was not to be, and in the small town of Paris, Texas, where Travis owned a small patch of land, his plot remains empty. Proximity, distance and space are the defining elements of love, Wenders concludes, and he is in some way right, as these are often both the scariest and most joyous ideas surrounding the concept of love.