Sep 13, 2009

Projection in Paris, Texas

If you want an exceptional example of (Jungian) projection in film - and a killer soundtrack by Ry Cooder - take a look at Wim Wender’s 1984 film, Paris, Texas. It is another psychological powerhouse of a film and another film in which a triumvirate (i.e. Sam Shepard, Wim Wenders and Harry Dean Staunton) play off each other for exceptional performances.

Travis, played by Harry Dean Staunton, is the drifter who has been rescued by his brother. He finds that his wife has disappeared and left his son in the care of his brother and brother’s wife. His family is broken and scattered. In unravelling how this happened, Travis comes face-to-face with the great tragedy of his life. He’s trying to explain it to his son by way of describing how his father saw his mother:

“He looked at her,
but he didn't see her.
He, he saw this idea.”

It is a scene that explains the title of the movie. It explains why Travis’ brother married a French woman. And finally it explains why Travis can never return to his wife. He has figured out his problem and the tragedy that unfolds is that he knows he cannot solve it. The implication is that he has to chose who will raise his son: his wife or he.

It is a carefully constructed scene and shows the destructive side of projection, in this case how Travis has projected his own idealized version of a woman onto his wife. All men carry this idealization with them. She has remarkable power. She can open the gateway to the unconscious or mess you about in a whirlwind of indecision. She can torture the women in your life or help you settle into the world. It all depends on the details of that idealized woman and the relationship a man has with her.