Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stranger Than Paradise

Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1985) [8]

Jarmusch's minimalist debut film is a richer, much more complex film than it appears on its surface. It deals with many more deeper meanings than just its deadpan exterior. A lot of the praise for the film really ignores the story itself and deals mostly with its form, a series of static sequences all delivered with a dry, deadpan sense of humor. There's a lot I like about Jarmusch's style but also happen to feel what happens in this film also is interesting. Willie is an immigrant now living in New York, hustling with his friend Eddie to make a living. His life gets thrown out of whack by his visiting cousin from Hungary, Eva, on her way to Cleveland. It's clear that the two have not much in common from their tastes in music to clothing. By using the form he does, Jarmusch is really able to strip a lot of extraneous elements away so the ideas of foreigners and assimilation really come to mind. It's this clash of differing cultures that gives the film its humor, especially the scene with the t.v. dinners. Eventually Eva goes to Cleveland and after a questionable poker game, Willie and Eddie decide to take a road trip. They visit Eva and Aunt Lotte. They go to see Lake Erie but its frozen and windswept. The three decide to head to Florida, to perceived paradise. What happens in Florida can be described as a bit of misunderstandings that allow for a humorous ending. It may not seem like much is going on in the story, but I feel that Jarmusch is describing America to some extent. Someone like Eva comes to America expecting big things but is stuck in a lousy job in a city with lousy weather. Willie and Eddie aren't much better off. The expectations of Florida is of a grand playground but all Jarmusch shows are race tracks, highways, and motels. The reason why this works instead of being pointless is that by using the structure of the film leaves some detachment for the viewer from the characters in all their restless glory. Stranger than Paradise paints a sketch of characters on the edges of the American dream who wish to find the promise of America but end up still searching. But Jarmusch creates an almost sealed off universe where America for these characters aren't palm trees and sunshine and is instead more drab and pointless than many of us would want to believe. What this film does show is maybe that world is more honest than the ideal one.

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