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Stranger Than Paradise: Meaningful Minimalism

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  1. Introduction
  2. The center of Stranger Than Paradise
  3. The narrative style of the film
  4. The revelation of the characters' meaning
  5. The American identity that Willie wants
  6. The end of the third segment
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

The term ?independent film? is extremely malleable in the realm of American cinema. A film may be considered ?independent? if it is financed and/or distributed outside of a Hollywood studio, or if it bends and/or breaks the conventions of mainstream American movies. There are numerous, if not infinite, ways to categorize and classify films as independent, and any attempt to do so is nearly impossible. That said, there are certain films that inarguably deserve the controversial classification, and certain filmmakers that approach American cinema in a manner that undeniably independent. One such film is Stranger Than Paradise (1984), and one such filmmaker is Jim Jarmusch. The film, Jarmusch's second feature as writer/director, was financed with a shoestring budget (around $110,000), and became an archetype of what American independent cinema would strive to be in the following two decades. The narrative style of Stranger Than Paradise bends nearly all the ?rules? of mainstream cinema. Everything about the film is minimalist, to put it lightly. In the early 1980's, when films with grand narratives?such as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984)?dominated the box office, Jarmusch's film served as a daring, wholly original way to approach American cinema. Stranger Than Paradise's sparse visual and narrative qualities frame its subject, American identity, in a way that few movies had ever attempted. His emphasis on the small, mediocre, and often-unexamined qualities of everyday life, made for a truly independent film.

[...] Each scene of Stranger Than Paradise is long and, at times, tedious, with characters exchanging little or no dialogue. This minimalist approach is highly effective in Stranger Than Paradise, which focuses on three essentially banal, lethargic characters. Willie is not the type of protagonist one would find in a mainstream Hollywood movie. In his review of Stranger Than Paradise, Roger Ebert states that Willie spends his time ?perfecting his New York accent and trying to make nothing out of himself. [...]

[...] Stranger Than Paradise centers around three people, and the vacancy that fills their lives. The story is, at first glance, as empty as the characters that inhabit it. In his book Stranger than Paradise, Geoff Andrew states that Jarmusch's film's ?story is so simple and slight [that it is] almost non-existent (Andrew 138). Willie (John Laurie), the protagonist, is a twenty-something Hungarian expatriate who now lives in New York City. Willie considers himself wholly ?Americanized?, and when he is asked to let his sixteen-year-old Hungarian cousin Eva (Eszter Balint), who wants to visit New York City before going to Cleveland to see their Aunt Lottie, he is quite hesitant. [...]

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