Thursday, June 12, 2008

FROM "PARIS, TEXAS" TO "PRETTY IN PINK" : THE REDEMPTIVE FATHERHOOD OF HARRY DEAN STANTON

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This post belongs to Strange Culture's Dads In Media blog-a-thon, starting today and running through Father's Day. Be sure to check into RC's site for more posts about fathers, dads, and any other kind of father figure. Enjoy!
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When I was in high school, one of my favorite movies was Pretty In Pink. At the time, I'd watch - then rewind and watch again... and again - the crane shot of Duckie crying atop the newspaper machine after Andie smashes his crush by telling him that she's going on a date with Blane.

Fifteen years later, the Pretty In Pink moments that mean most to me are the scenes between Andie and her father, Jack (Harry Dean Stanton). This proves the timeless, cross-generational insight that John Hughes had. He didn't just understand teens, he understood family.

Jack's wife - Andie's mother - left them years ago. Since then, he functions enough to love his daughter, but not enough to be her father. Andie is left to play the role of mom, dad, and child all at once. Yet when Andie's heart gets bruised it's a wake-up call to Jack. He won't let his daughter suffer the stasis of life the way he has, and moreover, from here on out he refuses to let her live under a roof where the example being set is one of resignation.

Though the following scene isn't between Jack and Andie, my favorite exchange in Pretty In Pink is between Jack and Duckie, when the latter half-jokingly asks for his daughter's hand in marriage:

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Duckie: I wanted to talk to you about Andie.

Jack: Yeah?

Duckie:
She's an incredible individual. You know that. I mean, I'm there for her. Whenever, however, I'm there. You can rest assured that she's covered. I don't want you to worry, because my only plans are to make sure that she's taken care of.

Jack:
That's nice of you, Phil.

Duckie: And I'd like to marry her. Well, not today. But eventually, I figure.

Jack:
Well, does Andie know how you feel about this?

Duckie:
No confirmation on that just yet. I'm layin' the groundwork. I'm thinkin' in terms of housing, food, basic needs. But I'm picking my moment. I mean, you understand, right?

Jack:
Sure. I felt the same way about somebody myself.

Duckie:
A girl?

Jack:
A girl. I loved her and I married her. And one day she just split. So I haven't seen her in three years, you know, and... But I still love her just as much as I ever did, you know? You can love Andie, but that doesn't mean she'll love you back. It doesn't mean she won't, but... What I'm trying to say is you can't make it happen. It either will or it won't. It's all in the heart.

Duckie:
Yeah, sure. Cardiovascular.
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That cautious advice could've come from the mouth of Travis Henderson, the wandering father in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas.

Healing, yet not quite upright, Travis has accepted the separation from his true love, and mother to his son, Jane. Harry Dean Stanton's face - kitten eyes on the face of a hound - is the perfect foundation to portray both a physical and spiritual regeneration of man. Wenders is a genius of landscape artistry, so I'm betting he studied the lines of Stanton's face in casting the way he did the skyline of Houston while scouting.

Travis goes from wearing worn-through sneakers, a dirty beard, a sweat-stained ball cap, and ill-fitting cowboy shirts that hide his caved-in chest ... to ... rough-skin boots, smooth face - save a distinct mustache, carefree hair (revealing a determined brow), and tucked-in solid color button-ups that present him as a newly groomed and focused man.

Simply focused, that is. Only by simplifying can Travis accomplish his mission, and that mission is to reunite his son, Hunter, with Jane.

While bonding over dashboard chats, walkie-talkies, fast food, and hotel rooms, father and son finally locate mother in Houston. The reunion between Hunter and Jane, mother and son, is the release we've been waiting for for 136 minutes. Their nervous hug, then full embrace and spin, is vindication for Travis, who, standing alone, watches from a parking lot twenty floors down.

Quickly, he hits the road - probably headed to Paris, Texas ("that's the place mom and dad first made love", he tells his brother) - knowing that he'll never earn the right to wear a # 1 DAD t-shirt, but that he gave the best he could, and gave up the best he had, to become the best father in the only way he knew how.

2 comments:

RC said...

what fun movie selections...it's interesting how in film (and probably in real life) a father changing his affections and effort to focus on fatherhood sometimes is just what it takes for everything to turn around.

Scott said...

Awesome addition to the blog a thon.