Dir. Jim Jarmusch. Run Time: 89 mins. M15+
(US Release Poster)
Long lingering conversations, shots held for much longer than is necessary, and a plot that really goes nowhere: Stranger Than Paradise has all of the hallmarks to make it an art-house auteur classic, but don’t mistake Jarmusch’s flair for pretension. In fact the lingering shots and stunted conversations found in this film are anything but pretentious, rather they are the core of realism in cinema.
We film lovers have long been trained in what to expect from a movie: dialogue has a natural sounding progression that moves us from plot point A to plot point B, characters have motivations that make sense, and stories go forward with an easy momentum. Stranger Than Paradise, contrary to these established modes of film making, just lets events, characters, and dialogue unfold in a manner much more similar to the real world than most other films. Conversations are not directed and shots are not carefully constructed and edited, rather the viewer feels like a fly on the wall as this collection of bored characters try to find something (anything) to talk about.
The plot revolves (like many of Jarmusch’s movies) around a cast of outsiders drifting aimlessly through life. Willie (John Lurie) is a bored New Yorker with a gambling habit, Eva (Ezter Balint) is his Hungarian immigrant cousin, and Eddie (Richard Edson) is their hopelessly optimistic tag-along friend, and our story follows these three as they travel through their dull lives making an issue out of everything.
The actual plot, however, takes a backseat the real goings on in this film. The boredom and pointlessness is not meant to entertain in any usual way, but rather to force the viewer into a mode of existential thinking. These characters are not searching for entertainment or action (although they think they are), they are simply searching for themselves all over America. “What does it mean to be an American?” Jarmusch is asking of us, and furthermore, “what does it mean to simply ‘be’?”
Stranger Than Paradise provides no answers to these questions, but it does give a deep insight into the issues at hand. Like every single shot the characters fade in, exist for a time, and then fade out. Nothing is achieved, nothing is accomplished, thing just are. And that is where the beauty of the movie lies; in its simple act of existing.
I suppose that some might find the whole thing pointless, and I would agree to an extent, but those who dismiss this film for its pointlessness are in for a very heated argument indeed. It’s true that this is not the movie you want to throw in the player when you are looking forward to an evening of mindless entertainment with friends, but that doesn’t lessen the movie’s impact at all. It is a commitment to lock yourself into the film and really work your way through the melange of useless conversation and dead-pan editing, but I would say that it is well worth the effort. There is just so much to be gained from watching this film with an open mind and taking in the sheer beauty of its bared souls.
SIDENOTE: Stranger Than Paradise is listed at #718 on the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
(Polish Release Poster)
- 15 “Golden Rules” of Filmmaking from John Waters, Wim Wenders & Jim Jarmusch (openculture.com)
- JOHN LURIE National Orchestra : The Invention of Animals (pittsburghmusicmagazine.com)
- 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (ljfacestheworld.wordpress.com)
- The Humanists: Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth (3quarksdaily.com)