I recently journeyed to south Florida for the first time earlier this week. All I really knew about Florida before making the trip came from Norman Mailer’s book Miami & The Siege of Chicago and Jim Jarmusch’s film Stranger Than Paradise. And I’d have to say, that from my own experience, Stranger Than Paradise captured the region’s atmosphere pretty accurately (Mailer’s book focuses on his own experience at a Republican convention, so I never anticipated any relevancy to my own journey).
But Stranger Than Paradise as a film captures something else as well, something far more pivotal to American culture as a whole. The film places the New York hipster culture of the early eighties into the situations that defined the original hipsters of the Beat Generation. By doing so, a severe contrast becomes apparent in the desires, needs and ambitions of Americans in the 1980s and 1950s. For Kerouac, the trip across country was a spiritual venture unique and enlightening, for John Lurie’s character in Stranger Than Paradise it is a necessity in escaping boredom and routine. Such a shift speaks of the overall psychology of our country, and just how much it shrank in the 60s and 70s with the advent of technologies that in Kerouac’s day were the stuff of dreams. Jarmusch’s film is therefore bleak and dark, achieving a compassion for characters that are otherwise lazy do-nothing hipsters.
Let me conclude by saying that if you haven’t seen Stranger Than Paradise, you should. If you’re planning to go to Florida, have an idea of what you’re going to do there first. Otherwise, you’ll end up like Eva; bored senseless sitting in your motel all day.