Stranger Than Paradise

Stranger Than Paradise was a little difficult to break into, at least in comparison to the two other Jim Jarmusch films I’d seen prior to watching it. It wasn’t drastically different from either of those films, in fact they shared some key traits: Stranger Than Paradise had the melancholic, lost souls of both Mystery Train and Down By Law, examined the myth of place like the former, and starred John Lurie like the latter, but for the first few minutes it felt slow, awkward, and almost amateurish. This is only Jarmusch’s second feature, so it was easy to fall into the trap of viewing its minimalist stylings as unambitious, but the film unfolds beautifully from that first scene until the very last shot of Eva clutching her hat. Close-ups are strictly forbidden, Jarmusch lets the scene unfold in an almost play-like manner with the camera tracking as the only shifts once a place is established. The editing is extremely minimal, only used to establish new settings, placing a great deal of responsibility and importance upon the actors’ performances. Lurie, Edson, and Eszter Balint all manage to bring sincerity and aloofness to their roles, which, alongside their outwardly unchanging characters, crafts Willie, Eddy, and Eva into staggeringly genuine individuals. Stranger Than Paradise is critical of the supposed inherent power of changing places: Willie and Eddy seem to have only gained the confidence to bet on dog races instead of horses by the time they get to Florida, and the black and white photography renders the feeling of each of the three locations nearly identical. The escapes from locations and routines grown cold, attempts at material solutions for deeper problems, are accompanied by the appropriate character development through tiny details rather than the major plot points of the film. This is instrumental in making these three characters incredibly genuine, and makes the final scene even more impactful, juxtaposing Willie’s desperate and random flight with Eva’s yearning to have something to hold on to. A thread of absurd humor runs through the affair, not just to keep the audience entertained through its somewhat plotless runtime, but because the entire predicament of being lost with too many places to go is, before tragic, strange.