Stranger Than Paradise

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Stranger Than Paradise
1984 movie poster
Directed byJim Jarmusch
Produced bySara Driver
Written byJim Jarmusch
StarringJohn Lurie
Eszter Balint
Richard Edson
Cecillia Stark
Music byJohn Lurie
CinematographyTom DiCillo
Edited byJim Jarmusch
Melody London
Cinesthesia Productions Inc.
Distributed byThe Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release date
October 1, 1984
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
West Germany
Box office$2,436,000

Stranger Than Paradise is a 1984 American black and white absurdist deadpan comedy film, written, directed, and co-edited by Jim Jarmusch and starring jazz musician John Lurie, former Sonic Youth drummer-turned-actor Richard Edson, and Hungarian-born actress and violinist Eszter Balint. The film features a minimalist plot in which the main character, Willie, has a cousin from Hungary named Eva. Eva stays with him for ten days before going to Cleveland. Willie and his friend Eddie eventually go to Cleveland to visit Eva, and the three then take a trip to Florida. This film is shot entirely in single long takes with no standard coverage.[1]


The film is a three-act story about Willie (John Lurie), who lives in Brooklyn, and his interactions with the two other main characters, his cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) and friend Eddie (Richard Edson).

In the first act, Willie, a surly small-time gambler and hustler of Hungarian origin, receives a phone call from his Aunt Lotte in Cleveland informing him that his expected visit by his cousin Eva, who is coming from Hungary to live with Lotte, will have to be extended to ten days because Lotte is unexpectedly in the hospital. Willie at first makes it clear that he does not want Eva there. He even orders Eva to speak English for the ten-day period, not Hungarian, as Willie strongly identifies as "American." But Willie soon begins to enjoy her company. He becomes protective, discouraging her from going out alone, or beyond a certain street. At one point, Eva takes the initiative to clean the apartment which is fairly dirty, finds his vacuum cleaner, plugs it in and starts vacuuming. Playfully, Willie tries to persuade her that the phrase "choking the alligator" is an American metaphor for vacuuming the floor. Eva is wise to this immediately. They both smile wryly.

Yet, Willie refuses to take Eva on his trips to the race track with Eddie, Willie's good-natured but dull gambling buddy and hustling accomplice. Eddie tries to persuade Willie to bring Eva along, to no avail. Willie and Eva watch football in the afternoon and late-night sci-fi movies. His esteem for her increases when Eva comes back from an excursion with a few canned food items, a TV dinner "especially" for Willie, and to Willie's astonishment, a carton of cigarettes, all obtained without money. Willie smiles and shakes her hand, telling her "I think you're alright, kid."

Eva, smart, pretty, and low-key, likes to play her favorite song, Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "I Put a Spell on You" which Willie dislikes. He buys her a dress, which she dislikes. At this point it becomes evident that Willie has developed an attraction to Eva. After ten days Eva leaves, and Willie is clearly upset to see her go. Eddie, on his way to visit Willie, sees her discard the dress on the street, but does not tell Willie this.

The second act starts a year later and opens with Willie and Eddie winning a large amount of money by cheating at a game of poker. Willie asks Eddie about borrowing his brother-in-law's car, telling him "I just wanna get out'a here, see sump'in different, ya know?". In truth, Willie wants to go to Cleveland to see Eva.

It is the middle of winter. They arrive in Cleveland and after stopping at Lotte's house, they go to surprise Eva at her job at a local fast food restaurant, where she is excited and pleased to see them. However, soon after arriving in Cleveland they are just as bored as they were in New York. They play cards with Lotte to pass the time. They end up tagging along with Eva and her would-be boyfriend to the movies. They go to the pier on the frozen snow-covered lakefront to take in the view. Pressed by Eddie, Willie eventually decides to go back to New York. When they say their goodbyes, Eva jokingly suggests that if they win big at the race track, they should "kidnap" her. Willie responds they would take her someplace warm, because "this place is awful."

The final act begins with Willie suggesting to Eddie, on the road back to New York, to go to Florida instead. Willie then suggests they turn around and pick up Eva and bring her along, which they do, to Lotte's obvious consternation. The three of them get to Florida and get a room at a motel. The next morning the men leave Eva asleep in the room. Eva, having awakened to find herself alone and with no food or cash, wanders outside in the windy bleak overcast afternoon to the beach, which appears not much more appealing than the windy bleak snowy Lake Erie scene in Cleveland from which they fled. When they come back, Eva's annoyance turns to dismay when the distraught pair reveal they have lost most of their money on dog races. They go for a walk on the beach to figure out what to do. Willie is clearly annoyed with Eddie, as the dog races were his idea.

Willie and Eddie decide to go out and bet the last of their money on horse races. Willie still refuses to let Eva come along, so she goes out on the beach for a walk. Wearing a flamboyant wide-brimmed straw hat she has just gotten from a gift shop, a drug dealer mistakes her for a courier he has been waiting for. He gives her an envelope containing a large sum of money while berating her and her presumed boss. She goes back to the motel, leaves some of the money for Willie and Eddie, and writes them a note explaining that she is going to the airport. Willie and Eddie, having won big at the horse races and gone through the better part of a bottle of whisky, return to the motel to find Eva gone. Willie reads her note and they go to the airport to stop her. Eva discusses with an airline ticket agent her options for flying to Europe, ending with a mention that there is a plane leaving in 44 minutes for her home city of Budapest. She appears indecisive.

When Willie and Eddie get to the airport, Willie, believing Eva has boarded the flight to Budapest, conceives a plan: buy a ticket to Budapest, get on the plane, and convince Eva to stay in the United States. The second to last shot shows Eddie outside watching the plane flying overhead, lamenting that Willie was apparently not able to get off the plane and that now both Willie and Eva are headed to Budapest. The final shot, however, shows Eva back at the motel, returning to an empty room, looking tired and perplexed, toying with the straw hat.


Background and production[edit]

Writer and director Jim Jarmusch shot his first feature, Permanent Vacation (1980) as his final thesis while at New York University's film school, and spent the following four years making Stranger than Paradise. At NYU, he had studied under director Nicholas Ray, who had brought him along as his personal assistant for the production of Lightning over Water, a portrait of Ray that was being filmed by Wim Wenders.[2] It was Wenders who granted Jarmusch the leftover film stock from his subsequent film Der Stand der Dinge (1982) that would enable the young director to shoot the 30-minute short subject film that would become Stranger Than Paradise. This short was released as a standalone film in 1982,[2] and shown as "Stranger Than Paradise" at the 1983 International Film Festival Rotterdam. When it was later expanded into a three-act feature, that name was appropriated for the feature itself, and the initial segment was renamed "The New World".

Release and reception[edit]

The film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Caméra d'Or award for debut films (1984). It also won the Golden Leopard and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention at the 1984 Locarno International Film Festival, the Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association, the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1985 and National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Picture of 1985, the film went on to win the Kniema Junpo Award for best foreign language film in 1987, the award for National Film Registry at the National Film Preservation Board, USA in 2002.[3]

The film made $2,436,000,[4] significantly more than its budget of around $100,000.[5]


The film currently holds a 96% "fresh" rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.5/10 based on 20 critics.

Film critic Pauline Kael gave the film a generally positive review.

The first section is set in the bare Lower East Side apartment of Willie, who is forced to take in Eva, his 16-year-old cousin from Budapest, for ten days. The joke here is the basic joke of the whole movie. It's in what Willie doesn't do: he doesn't offer her food or drink, or ask her any questions about life in Hungary or her trip; he doesn't offer to show her the city, or even supply her with sheets for her bed. Then Eddie comes in, even further down on the lumpen scale. Willie bets on the horses; Eddie bets on dog races. Eva, who never gets to see more of New York than the drab, anonymous looking area where Willie lives, goes off to Cleveland to stay with Aunt Lotte and work at a hot-dog stand. And when Willie and Eddie go to see her, all they see is an icy wasteland – slums and desolation – and Eddie says 'You know it's funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.' The film has something of the same bombed-out listlessness as Paul Morrissey's 1970 Trash – it's Trash without sex or transvestism. The images are so emptied out that Jarmusch makes you notice every tiny, grungy detail. And those black-outs have something of the effect of Samuel Beckett's pauses: they make us look more intently, as Beckett makes us listen more intently.[6]

The film was voted the Best Picture of 1984 by the National Society of Film Critics.[7]

Home media[edit]

Stranger Than Paradise has been released on DVD by The Criterion Collection as its 400th title.[8] The DVD contains a second disc which includes Jarmusch's first film, Permanent Vacation (1980). Both films were restored for the DVD release using high-definition digital transfers overseen and sanctioned by the director. Supplementary footage on the second disc includes Kino ’84: Jim Jarmusch, a series of interviews with the cast and crew from both films by a German television program, as well as Some Days in January (1984), a behind-the-scenes Super-8 film by the director's brother. An accompanying booklet features Jarmusch's 1984 essay "Some Notes on Stranger Than Paradise" as well as critical commentary by Geoff Andrew and J. Hoberman on Stranger Than Paradise and by Luc Sante on Permanent Vacation.[8]


Stranger Than Paradise broke many conventions of traditional Hollywood filmmaking,[9] and became a landmark work in modern independent film.[8] According to allmovie, it is "one of the most influential movies of the 1980s", and cast "a wide shadow over the new generation of independent American filmmakers to come.[10] It is cited for giving "an early example of the low-budget independent wave that would dominate the cinematic marketplace a decade later".[11] The success of the film accorded Jarmusch a certain iconic status within arthouse cinema, as an idiosyncratic and uncompromising auteur exuding the aura of urban cool embodied by downtown Manhattan.[12][13] In a 2005 profile of the director for The New York Times, critic Lynn Hirschberg declared the film to have "permanently upended the idea of independent film as an intrinsically inaccessible avant-garde form".[14]

In 2002, Stranger Than Paradise was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was included in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Alternate 100, which was a response to the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movies list.[15] In 2003, Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #26 on their list of "The Top 50 Cult Films".[16] Empire Magazine put the film at 14 on its list of the 50 greatest independent films of all time.[17]


Stranger Than Paradise
Soundtrack album by
John Lurie
GenreExperimental music
John Lurie chronology
Stranger Than Paradise
Down By Law
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3/5 stars[18]

The film features an original soundtrack written by John Lurie, who also stars in the film. The music is performed by The Paradise Quartet, consisting of Jill B. Jaffe (viola), Mary L. Rowell (violin), Kay Stern (violin), and Eugene Moye (cello). The recording engineer for the sessions was Ollie Cotton. The original song "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins features prominently in the soundtrack.

Track listing[edit]

1."Bella By Barlight" 
2."Car Cleveland" 
3."Sad Trees" 
4."The Lamposts Are Mine" 
5."Car Florida" 
6."Eva & Willie's Room (Beer For Boys – Eva Packing)" 
7."The Good And Happy Army" 
8."A Woman Can Take You To Another Universe (Sometimes She Just Leaves You There)" 


  1. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Stranger Than Paradise movie review (1984) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2020-01-29.
  2. ^ a b Hoberman, J. (September 3, 2007). "Paradise Regained". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
  3. ^ Hartl, John (March 16, 2000). "New on videotape". The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 11, 2009.
  4. ^ "Stranger Than Paradise (1984)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  5. ^ Axmaker, Sean. "Stranger Than Paradise". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  6. ^ Kael, Pauline (1987). State of the Art. New York: M. Boyars. pp. 260–263. ISBN 0-7145-2869-2.
  8. ^ a b c "Stranger Than Paradise (1984)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  9. ^ Tobias, Scott (May 19, 2004). "Jim Jarmusch". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 3, 2009.
  10. ^ Deming, Mark. "Stranger Than Paradise > Overview". All Media Group. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  11. ^ Williams, Karl. "Stranger Than Paradise > Review". All Media Group. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  12. ^ Dretzk, Gary (June 30, 1996). "Poets and Indians: Jim Jarmusch goes West to bring Dead Man to life". Chicago Tribune. An idiosyncratic filmmaker whose hip, ironic style has wowed the art-house crowd since the quirky Stranger Than Paradise was released in 1984, Jarmusch embodies urban cool and uncompromising auteurism. His pictures are at once funny, gritty, highly challenging and undeniably American in their multicultural vision.
  13. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (March 22, 1996). "A gun up your ass: an interview with Jim Jarmusch". Cineaste. Archived from the original on April 27, 2009. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  14. ^ Hirschberg, Lynn (July 31, 2005). "The Last of the Indies". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
  15. ^ Rosenbaum, Johnathan (June 25, 1998). "List-o-Mania". Chicago Reader. Creative Loafing. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  16. ^ "The Top 50 Cult Films". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. May 23, 2003.
  17. ^ Empire Features
  18. ^ Sheridan, Tim. "Stranger Than Paradise > Review". All Media Guide. Retrieved December 30, 2009.

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