The following article was written as an assignment for the Introduction to Film and Video Analysis class.
Jim Jarmusch's second movie Stranger Than Paradise (1984) is often seen as a "deadpan comedy" or "wry humor" mainly because all the characters do not talk much. Even if they talk, they often fail to communicate with each other. On the other hand, the movie is also considered as "Downtown Cool" or "streetwise naturalism." These humor and coolness come mainly from the cinematography and the character's settings in the film. Overall the film clearly creates the "deadpan" atmosphere and shows the isolated situation of each character by breaking one of the conventional rules of general movies.
Stranger Than Paradise intends to create a boring atmosphere by showing communication failures between the characters. The film does not have any twisted story-line or exciting events. It consists of three acts. In the first act "The New World," Willie and his friend Eddie meet Willie's cousin Eva ,who just came from Budapest, in a desolate apartment in New York. She spends ten days there with them. In the second act "One Year Later," Willie and Eddie visit Eva in Cleveland, Ohio in the middle of cold winter. In the last act "Paradise," three of them go to Florida for a vacation. The only big event happens at the end of the film when Eva happens to receive a huge amount of money by accident. Except for that event, Jarmusch mainly describes their awkward interactions with each other. He focuses more on their communication failures. For example, Willie refuses to speak or listen to Hungarian that his aunt Lotte and Eva speak. Willie fails to tell a joke to Eva because he totally forgets the punch line. Jarmusch also shows the fact that there is not much to talk about when the characters meet each other. Willie does not ask Eva anything about her first trip to New York or her home country Hungary when they first meet. Willie and Eddie have nothing to talk with aunt Lotte when they visit her house in Cleveland. Instead, Jarmusch inserts the silence before and after the characters'short conversation quite often in order to reveal the boring and uncomfortable situations that they have to bear. To fill the emptiness of being together in the same place, they often smoke cigarettes and drink beer. Also, their conversations are often one-way. (e.g. Aunt Lotte speaks Hungarian to everybody even if nobody is listening to her. A drug dealer approaches to Eva and complains to her without confirming her identity.) All these malfunctions of the communication leave the impression to the audience that each character is isolated even though he or she would like to communicate to each other.
The other point that looks the characters more isolated in the film is that they cannot feel that they are supposed to be together to achieve something as a goal in the movie, which is often the case seen in other movies. Willie and Eddie say to each other that they do not know what to do and where to go. Even if they go to other locations hoping for changing their current boring situation, they still feel the same there. After they arrive in Cleveland, Eddie says to Willie, "You know, it's kind of funny. You're some place new, and everything looks just the same." As a result, the audience is also at a loss with them in the story. From that point, the audience wanders with them without any possible goals of the movie.
Stranger Than Paradise changed one of the premises of movies that the characters surely communicate with each other and the story follows a certain story archetype in a genre which have a typical ending or goal predictable for the audience. The film successfully displays an uninteresting and tiresome atmosphere and communication failures that often occur in a real life. It is still quite unconventional and unique among other films today.