The interstate is our 51st state, and one with a very special function. It’s the state in which — through which — we’re permitted to erase who we are, and prepare ourselves to become someone else. That’s why they call it the interstate.
This movie’s a bit of a variation on the road movie theme, since it features a sort of intercessor of the interstate, Harry Dean Stanton, who commits to remaining permanently in the interstate in order to help two others — his estranged wife and child — pass through it to the other side.
On the other hand, it is also a quintessential road movie, especially in the way it meanders and takes its time. Many other road movies (Thelma and Louise, for example) make the fundamental mistake of being too teleological. You can’t pass through bardo in a straight line.
This is one of my favorite Wenders movies, because unlike some (e.g. Wings of Desire) which I loved at first but now strike me as a little overmuch, this one gets better as time goes by. Probably because it’s so terse. There are plenty of silences into which you can insert one thought this year, and a very different thought five years from now. We have Sam Shepard’s script to thank for this, no doubt.
It must be mentioned that Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to this movie is so crucial to its mood, I literally doubt the movie would be possible without it. The music may in fact be more important than the visuals, which are frequently stunning.
This is one of those pieces of art that reminds me of something grandiose I wrote in my notebook long ago determined never to forget, but which I forget all the time as I critique and ironize. “The only meaningful aim of art is to devastate its audience.”