Jim Jarmusch’s first full length film feels like his most ominous as well. Of all his work, it may be my least favorite – story wise – and my most favorite, cinematically. It’s really an effort in capturing tones, in capturing existing.
“Allie” Parker is the focal point of the entire film, existing in nearly every shot after the opening. We see him exist and semi-interact with his girlfriend at their sparse apartment. We see him skulk around the dilapidated landscape of New York City. We see him visit his mother at the mental hospital. We see him come across a number of odd characters whose purpose seems little more than backdrop. Finally, we see him steal a convertible Mustang, which he then gets $800 for and promptly ditches town. As the film ends, Allie gets on a boat and the boat eventually pulls away leaving in it’s wake the late seventies New York City skyline. Allie has finally got out.
Jarmusch’s later films all touch on travel in some way or another, and there are a host of other elements in Permanent Vacation that a Jarmusch-ite will no doubt recognize. John Lurie pops up as a wandering saxophone player on the grimy city streets at night. I’m a sucker really for anything visually involving the decay of urban landscapes, and that is one area where this film doesn’t disappoint. Actually, it is a poignant first film for Jarmusch and one that perfectly begins his oeuvre. A film about wanting to escape the trappings of New York City, and even though Jarmusch will come back to NYC in later works, this one definitely seems the most personal.
I think the last line out of Allie as he’s about to leave NYC for good sort of sums up Jarmusch’s filmic persona, “I’m a certain kind of tourist. A tourist that’s on a permanent vacation.”