The standing joke in the movie is that Travis’ father met his wife in Paris. He waits as all do because most will think that this is Paris, the capital of France. Well, of course, the joke is that this was Paris, Texas. I’ve used that myself in my own snipe at the American way of life (1).
Wim Wenders is German, after all, and can see the Americans in a clearer light than the Americans themselves. It’s how cultures interact. Well, it does unless you’re an American in which case other cultures are usually avoided. My own experience of this in mid 80s Germany, in the ‘American Sector’ was of meeting American army soldiers who had stopped at a fuel station to ask directions. In English, of course. Directions, what is more, that were clearly marked on the motorway signs. To suggest that they hadn’t a clue is unkind.
That doesn’t make it any less true.
Wenders has a keen sense for the psychological elements in the movie, and in this respect, it is a movie for the connoisseur. Either you let it lap over you in a wave of emotion, which most will; or like me, you get what it’s all about even if you can’t explain it. Well, that’s what these posts are about: because in my later years such explanations have become part of my life. It’s surprisingly easy, just as long as you’re prepared to think things through for yourself – and accept that you are part of the problem. Reducing that is what life’s all about, and the lack of people willing to engage in this process has resulted in the position the world finds itself in today.
Travis Henderson is one of the walking wounded, if I can put it that way. He is borderline mentally ill, he certainly needs a little help, he doesn’t get it from the institutions that are there to help such people. But then, they’re already overstretched, and they’re only treating the genuinely helpless. If there is one thing that characterizes the path to mental illness, it is the lack of what I term ‘self-reflection’. Specifically this means an ability to reflect on one’s acts through the effect these have on those around you. This is very different from the business of navel gazing, which most will understand the term to mean. Most people imagine navel gazing is sufficient; I can tell you from direct experience that it is not.
But that’s what delusions are all about, isn’t it? That they seem so real; what’s more, they’re so self-fulfilling. Try arguing this line with a guy like Travis and you’re in for a hard time. The point of all this is to establish why Travis found the joke funny, and this is why he continued to tell it. In the way the American soldiers would know they were right and so drive on up the road whilst ignoring the big blue signs that are as tall as a house as they passed by. It wasn’t a rare happening. These guys needed help.
Travis himself lacked the ability to reflect on the impression his joke had on those around him. Since it made him laugh, it must make everybody else laugh. If you’re not looking for the result of your actions, you’ll find yourself in the mirrored hall of your comfort zone where all you can see is all you can imagine. This ‘disconnect’ from reality is amply described by my term, ‘Mind The Gap!’ Because the gap we have created in our lives is as complete as it is deep.
For those nestled inside their comfort zone, there is nothing else. The danger here is that if there is anything else, it will be deemed ‘wrong’ and this is explained in detail in my post on the subconscious where one of the commenters provides ample evidence of this ‘mirroring’ effect of what it’s like being ‘inside the box’ (2).
When anybody who doesn’t agree with you can only be wrong, doesn’t it make sense to tell them how to do it right? That is, after all, why the US bombs other countries back into the stone-age. Thankfully, at the time, Travis didn’t have anything more explosive than a stale joke. He became the kind of person that others cross the street to avoid meeting; and I can imagine no few doing that for me, too. The difference here is that I know why they do this; they do not. Start asking them and you’re in for a hard time: excuses, if you are lucky. Insults if you’re not – and it’s not impossible that they will start telling you lies. Only remember this: they regard YOU as being at fault here, not them. You are at fault because you are not agreeing with whatever illusions they cherish. Humanity has brought itself to this point through the lack of self-reflection, and everybody who lacks this will shortly be blaming everybody else for not agreeing with them. It’s not going to be pretty.
An Attempt At Healing Travis.
Walt’s wife, Anne who is played by the sensitive Aurore Clément, is French – a nice twist to the theme of the movie itself – speaks to Travis about his partner. This occurs once he’s arrived at their home in Los Angeles; in itself, it shows that she took the time and made the effort to get through to him. Add to this that he wasn’t so hard baked as to be past the point of being able to respond. She was lucky: most people in our day and age are long past the point of no return. Humanity’s problem is that most of us simply don’t know this. How can one know if one lacks self-reflection? How can one even know what self-reflection is when it’s beyond your capacity to imagine? The ‘Gap’ has never been wider, it’s never been more dangerous and most people are walking up to it, only they’re looking at the sky and day-dreaming about the clouds rather than look where they’re putting their feet.
Now, in the movie, Anne has a problem. Because Travis is at the moment something of a psychological hand grenade with the pin pulled out. But then, Anne is no more aware of the danger she stands in than Travis is himself. That she has the capacity to speak to him and also listen intently speaks of her having the nascent capacity to develop true ‘self-reflection’. After all, you cannot converse properly without noting the things others say and how they say it. These capacities are gentle and need nurturing: in all too many cases, they get smothered.
She also encourages Travis to build up a relationship with his son, Hunter. Well, the movie puts one and one together to make two: simple enough one might think, but life’s like that. Life is extraordinarily simple, it’s only complex when people lack the ability to converse. Anne’s problem is that she hasn’t developed the life experience to deal with people like Travis. I can’t blame her, I’d have made the same mistake in her shoes. Now, twenty five years later, it’s a different story for me. I hope it is for her, too.
A Lost Child.
If ever you’ve lost a child for ten minutes, you’ll know what it’s like. Every fear imaginable is let loose to gnaw at you. Is he dead? Kidnapped? Road accident? What?
The sky is the limit.
This is an important element in modern psychology, that might as well be termed ‘The Psychology of the Ignorant’ because neither Psychologists nor people can explain what’s actually going on here. I’ve never met a professional who can: I’ll get the usual excuses that seem to define the ignorant. I’m sorry if this term offends you, but the truth is that there is no other word for it. It’s not hard to unveil these things for yourself. What has surprised me is how resistant people are to doing this for themselves when it is so fucking easy.
Suffice it to say that when Hunter goes missing, Anne’s mind explodes. Travis’ problem is that he hasn’t a clue what he’s done to Walt and Anne. Basically the hand grenade’s gone off.
A few scenes later and we have Travis and Hunter at a roadside eater, after dusk on their first day of travelling. Travis is telling Hunter that he has to phone home – he possesses that much self-reflection at least. Hunter phones home and speaks blithely about their trip to Houston, Texas, to find Jane, Travis’ lost wife (3).
Then, for Anne there is the balm of relief with the call from Hunter. Every illusion is dispelled in a second. She demands Travis bring him home.
Hunter hangs up.
Then Anne’s ordeal begins again, only now with a set of other fears to bring her nightmares, should she have been unlucky enough to get any sleep. We’ll never know what happened. It was the last scene in which she played a part. But that is for the last part in this series of four posts.