By Johrah

Stranger Than Paradise by Jim Jarmusch (1984) (USA) is a legacy to American independent film. Jarmusch’s first independent film made a big hit at Cannes and in the US. The dead-pan comedy broke traditional style of hollywood filming, but became famous to the critics.

Stranger Than Paradise is divided into three segments, ‘The new world’, ‘One year later’ and ‘Paradise’. The film depicts America “through a foreigner’s eyes” which is Jarmusch’s common theme in his films. Aunt Lotte also speaks in Hungarian and Willie, the main character, replies in English while trying to persuade her to speak in English as well. This signifies a foreigner refusing to give up her roots while in America.

 Each segment can be said to represent the stages of a foreigner’s experience in America. It begins with ‘The new world’ and ends with ‘Paradise’ as the ultimate goal.

Shot in black and white, Stranger Than Paradise‘s film style was unique and surely “rule” breaking. Each scene is one take and after each take the screen will cut to black for a few seconds before another long take begins. Most of the takes are static shots and others follow the characters. It fitted the theme of dead-pan, with every take shot almost the same way. Although there were some high angles and car shots, each take still had the same repetitive emotionless feel.

“Films must find new ways of describing real emotions and real lives without manipulating the audience in the familiar, maudlin ways.” – Jarmusch, Chapter 2 Stranger Than Paradise


Eva arrived in America


Eddie and Willie driving to Cleveland

The scenes were mostly filled with ambient sounds. The sound would continue even after it cuts to black. Each take would usually begin with silence and some takes, like the movie scene, had no dialogue at all. However, the emotions of the characters were made perfectly clear.

However, Jarmusch’s fascination of music shows in Stranger Than Paradise. Willie’s actor is a musican, John Lurie. Jarmusch has been fond of putting musicans in key roles for his films. (Wikipedia, Jim Jarmusch) Music was rarely introduced in the scene, but rather during the black-out parts of the film. The only music used in a scene used was  “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. That was the only song used throughout the film.


Each shot was in deep focus making everything visible. The decor was messy, yet spacious giving a feel of a poor person with a messed up life, not knowing where to go.  Pauline Kael, writer and film critic, stated that “The images are so emptied out that Jarmusch makes you notice every tiny, grungy detail.” (Wikipedia, Stranger Than Paradise).

Willie's apartment

Willie’s apartment

For the story, Jarmusch wasn’t interested in characters with ambition or plot progression. Instead he was focusing more on the mood and character development. Jarmusch even stated in a 1989 interview that he would “rather make a movie about a guy walking his dog than about the emperor of China.” (Wikipedia, Jim Jarmusch).

Stranger Than Paradise was hailed by critics such as Roger Egbert as ” a treasure from one end to the other.” (Egbert, Stranger Than Paradise). The film was even voted the Best Picture of 1984 by the National Society of Film Critics (Wikipedia, Stranger Than Paradise). Jonathan Rosenbaum also listed the film in his Alternative 100 top American films (listofthebest, Jonathan Rosenbaum – Alternative 100 Top American Films) 

Stranger Than Paradise had a lot of praise as an independent film. With it’s low budget of roughly $90,000 (IMBd, Stranger Than Paradise), Jarmusch is said to have instigated the American independent film movement with this film (Wikipedia,  Jim Jarmusch). Critic Lynn Hirschberg declared the film to have “permanently upended the idea of independent film as an intrinsically inaccessible avant-garde form” (Wikipedia, Jim Jarmusch). 

Very few movies count as truly significant milestones in the development of American “indie” cinema…And among these landmark independent films, Stranger Than Paradise unquestionably looms large.” – Geoff Andrew, Stranger Than Paradise: Enter Jarmusch 

Jarmusch also gained an iconic status with arthouse cinema as an idiosyncratic and uncompromising auteur (Wikipedia, Stranger Than Paradise). Stranger Than Paradise also gained a place in the National Film Registry as a film that is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” (Wikipedia, Stranger Than Paradise).

Stranger Than Paradise was a daring success in independent filmmaking. With it’s one take style and unique way of storytelling, Jarmusch surely inspired filmmakers that great films can be born even with a minimalist budget.

About the author:

Johrah is a Charlie Chaplin fan that takes interest in cute animals, comedy and family themed shows and books.


Ebert, R. 1984. Stranger Than Paradise Movie Review (1984) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/stranger-than-paradise-1984 [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].

En.wikipedia.org. 2005. Jim Jarmusch. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jarmusch%5BAccessed: 21 Jun 2013].

IMDb. 1984. Stranger Than Paradise (1984). [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088184/ [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].

En.wikipedia.org. 1984. Stranger Than Paradise. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranger_Than_Paradise [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].

Jimjarmusch.tripod.com. 1950.Lawlor: Chapter Two: Stranger Than Paradise. [online] Available at: http://jimjarmusch.tripod.com/lawlor4.html [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].

Listsofbests.com. n.d.. Jonathan Rosenbaum – Alternative 100 Top American Films. [online] Available at: http://www.listsofbests.com/list/111-jonathan-rosenbaum-alternative-100-top-american-films?page=2 [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].

The Criterion Collection. Geoff Andrew 1984.Stranger Than Paradise: Enter Jarmusch. [online] Available at: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/567-stranger-than-paradise-enter-jarmusch [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].

The Criterion Collection. J. Hoberman 1980.Paradise Regained. [online] Available at: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/568-paradise-regained [Accessed: 21 Jun 2013].


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