Stranger than Paradise‘ (1984, dir. Jim Jarmusch) is a film about desolation and disillusionment.

Eva has just arrived in America, and is presumably waiting to be picked up. In the opening shot, she’s shown in a static wide shot of a dirt embankment overlooking an airport runway. The composition is devoid of major depth cues: the irregular shapes of the terrain provide no perspective lines or contrast of size that would indicate depth, and the black and white image is inherently devoid of color depth cues. Other than the size of the airplanes indicating that the runway is in the deep background, there are no other visual hints about the geography.

The light and dark values are also absent of any information: the terrain and sky create alternating bands of light and dark values criss-crossing the image, creating a disorienting texture. The net result of the lack of depth cues is that Eva becomes lost in a sea of graphic ambiguity, giving a sense of disorientation.

The foreground of the composition is dominated by featureless dirt. The only source of visual excitement in the frame comes from the movement of the planes in the background. However, Eva, who is graphically entrenched in the ambiguity of the foreground, feels disjointed from the activity of the background. This introduces her new reality in America: complete and utter desolation.

 

 

© 2012 Benjamin Kantor. All rights reserved.