A Human Menagerie, Mind The Gap!

Wim Wenders: Paris, Texas. Part 3.

Houston, Texas.

Neither of them is cut out for surveillance work. Waiting is bad enough; surveillance means being alert whilst waiting: the tedium is doubled.

The stake-out in Houston. Travis quickly loses interest.
Credit: Road Movies Filmproduktion, WDR.

Travis and Hunter arrive in Houston, Texas. Anne had told Travis about how Jane had opened a bank account for Hunter and put money in it every month on the fifth. At the time of telling, it would be the second or third. This meant a decision had to be taken, and Travis took it. That’s when he and Hunter arrived at the roadside eatery to phone Anne.

On the morning of the fifth, Travis and Hunter have staked out the bank. Hunter at one end, Travis in the car at the other. Neither of them is cut out for surveillance work. Waiting is bad enough; surveillance means being alert whilst waiting: the tedium is doubled. Travis gets bored and starts looking elsewhere with his binoculars. Hunter falls asleep.

By luck or by chance – more likely a way to shorten the plot – Hunter wakes to see his mum in a little red motorcar.

He recognizes her from the films Walt took ages ago. Hunter watches her leave, and yells to Travis, who is by now fast asleep. Travis wakes and they take after her on one of Houston’s interminable freeways.

Anyway, they chase her down to a scruffy back yard where it transpires she’s working in a chat come peep show. The kind of thing where losers buy a girl for an hour rather than form a proper and worthwhile relationship. If you’ve ever spoken to a prostitute, you’ll learn that many men only want the company. Only being losers, they can’t accept that a woman might actually want them for who they are. No: these men have to pay for this because otherwise they might have to consider themselves as worthwhile human beings. This is the downside of a soul-less, academic education. That is to say, one that centres on the intellect and nothing else. The teacher teaches, the pupil is taught. Everything is based on authority. For the weak minded, this is great because they don’t have to do anything but do as they’re told. No risk in their life!

The problem is when it comes to forming relationships that are worthwhile, that is to say, healthy. There are those annoying little things like emotions that you simply cannot buy. It’s like trying to buy a shade of magenta that you saw in a shop window. You can buy the magenta coloured dress made of silk, you can’t buy the colour. Most people in this situation have never actually considered the need for colours, leave alone emotions: the insidious processes of education have hammered the authoritarian nature of our society into their brains to leave them hard-wired for eternity. They will do as they’re told because they know nothing else.

Either above or below, they know no equality. Equality is what makes us human.

Put a person like Travis in a position of power and they will tell others what to do and will brook no response. Neither position requires any risk: the workers because they do as they’re told. The latter because it’s always a committee that decides what decision to make and therefore no single individual is ever at fault. Everything they do puts a distance between them and the people they work for, with or tell what to do.

There is no equality.

Falling In Love.

Yet by some accident of circumstance, two such people fall in love. Neither of them know how to handle this, our education system leaves people in the lurch when it comes to emotions. They’ve been forgotten for so long that nobody knows what they are, leave alone where to find them. That includes the teachers that taught today’s teachers.

Now Travis is in the peep-show with Jane. He does what all insecure people will do: he starts speaking in the third person. That is to say, he talks about his own life as ‘a man who…’ Travis can’t speak for himself as an individual, he has to put a distance between his own self and his own memories of himself! Talk about making the ‘gap’ in one’s own life! This ‘gap’ is all about emotion. Put better, the lack of it. This post is about what the gap will do to a person when they try to bridge it.

So they’re together, in love and everything they do is wonderful. The simplest things in life become magical. He still needs to work, but his need for her is so great that he earns enough and quits his job so that he can be with her. When they run out of money, he finds another. Well, this is seventies America where there were still jobs for the having.

Life, real life, is about accepting the realities. One of which is that if you’re a menial worker, you have to work hard for long hours. That isn’t to say that Travis is dumb, he’s an intelligent guy – you can tell that by the way he speaks. He says things that truly stupid people never would. Like the surveyor who came to see my bathroom: he was dumb. His level of intelligence, his ability to remember were all written down for him by somebody else. If the writing on the paper changed, so did his memory. I know that because the dates changed for the installation and he would have sworn on the bible that he had told me this during our meeting. I don’t envy him his life, for all his money and his position, because he has no part to play in his own life. For all his shortcomings, Travis does at least remember his relationship with Jane.

What Travis Wanted.

The problem for Travis was that his love was more of a dependency than any true love. A true love knows that the other will be fine, living their life and enjoying themselves. True love knows no distance: for a few weeks on the other side of the world makes no difference. The trust is there that they will return. A dependency requires the presence of the other to be there on the pedestal to be worshipped. But a dependency needs no trust. Dependencies in and of themselves are part of a person’s comfort zone: a dependency forms the other into a reflection. Dependency forces the other into a box that isn’t theirs.

It’s not a satisfying relationship. Mainly because it’s not a relationship at all. It’s a coexistence where the stronger forces their will on the weaker. Marriage counsellors meet this every time they meet a couple in distress. The key to understanding why Travis saw himself as being in love at all is because this forces of dominance was buried in his subconscious. From his point of view, it’s entirely natural to behave this way. He knows no other way to behave, does he?

An Unfettered Imagination Given Room To Speculate.

Spending time away from Jane only led Travis to imagine her doing things that only he would do. It’s how fear works: he can’t know what Jane truly thinks because he literally can’t see it. All he can do is ascribe to her the things he’d do himself, which for a man means getting randy. So he has to stay with her to keep her from doing the things that only he would do.

The more time Travis spends at work, the more his fears prick his imagination to ever more lurid scenes. There’s nothing he can do about this! He was tearing himself in two: he has to keep alive and he has to keep by Jane’s side because of what he imagines she’s doing without him there to guide her. And all of this because he couldn’t trust Jane to be, well, just Jane. An ordinary girl who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. He wasn’t able to match what he imagined of her to the reality of who she really was.

The problem for Travis was that Jane didn’t know anything of this. How could she know she was supposed to be in bed with another man? It wasn’t what she wanted, even if the situation presented itself to her!

So Travis ups the ante: he stays out, starts drinking. He becomes the person she doesn’t want so that he knows she really wants him. He wants her to be jealous because that will mean she truly cares for him.

We’re back where we began: Travis isn’t dealing with what Jane would do, but with what he’d do. Every time he tries something, the reaction from his imagination is the greater. A process that becomes ever more painful.

When Jane is Jane, he can’t grasp the reality of what she has done: his imagination puts his thoughts into her head. Nobody can see inside another’s head and that is where trust comes in. And Travis couldn’t trust her. He couldn’t accept that she could think for herself, that is to say, that she might think different thoughts than he did. That’s where trust comes in, and trust comes by experience of the things the other does in any given circumstance.

Travis couldn’t trust Jane because he never learned to trust himself.

Mainly because it’s not a relationship at all. It’s a coexistence where the stronger forces their will on the weaker.

For many, their emotional life is like a desert. If you can’t handle emotions, they’re best left alone. The problem is that to be healthy humans need to express their emotions.
Credit: Road Movies Filmproduktion, WDR.

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