Stranger Than Paradise

Stranger Than Paradise

1984 movie poster
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Produced by Sara Driver
Written by Jim Jarmusch
Starring John Lurie
Eszter Balint
Richard Edson
Cecillia Stark
Music by John Lurie
Cinematography Tom DiCillo
Edited by Jim Jarmusch
Melody London
Cinesthesia Productions Inc.
Distributed by The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release dates
October 1, 1984
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
West Germany
Language English
Budget US$100,000
Box office $2,436,000

Stranger Than Paradise is a 1984 American absurdist/deadpan comedy film, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring jazz musician John Lurie, former Sonic Youth drummer-turned-actor Richard Edson, and Hungarian-born actress 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.


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

In the first act, Willie's cousin Eva comes from Hungary to stay with him for ten days because Aunt Lotte, whom she will be staying with, will be in the hospital. Willie at first makes it clear that he does not want her there. He even orders Eva to speak English for the ten-day period, not Hungarian. However, Willie soon begins to enjoy her company. This becomes especially true when Eva steals food items from a grocery store and gets a TV dinner for Willie, "You're alright." He ends up buying her a dress, which she later discards. After ten days, Eva leaves, and Willie is clearly upset to see her go. Eddie, who had met Eva previously, sees her right before she goes.

The second act starts a year later and opens with a long take showing Willie and Eddie winning a large amount of money by cheating at a game of poker. Willie decides, because of all the money they now have, to leave the city. They decide to go to Cleveland to see Eva. However, when they get there they are just as bored as they were in New York. They end up tagging along with Eva and a friend, Billy, to the movies. They play cards with Willie and Eva's aunt. They eventually decide to go back to New York.

The final act begins with Willie and Eddie, on their way back to New York, deciding instead to go to Florida. They turn around and "rescue" Eva. The three of them get to Florida and get a room at a motel. The two men leave Eva in the Motel-room and end up losing all of their money on dog races. Eva wanders outside in the windy bleak rainy afternoon to the beach--which appears not much more appealing than the windy bleak snowy Lake Erie scene from which they fled, in Cleveland. When they come back Eva is annoyed. At this point, Willy and Eddie decide to go back and bet on horse races. Willie refuses to let Eva come along, so she goes out on the beach for a walk. Given her flamboyant wide-brimmed straw hat, she is mistaken by a drug carrier to be a dealer waiting to be paid, and is given a large sum of money. 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 all of their money back at the horse races, return to the motel, and find Eva is gone. Willie reads her note and they go to the airport to stop her from leaving. We see Eva conversing with the airline employee about various 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 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, toying with the striped straw hat.


Background and production

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 iconic 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.[1] 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,[1] 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

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.[2]

The film made $2,436,000,[3] significantly more than its budget of around $100,000.[4]


The film currently holds a 95% "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.[5]

The film was voted the Best Picture of 1984 by the National Society of Film Critics.[6]

Home media

Stranger Than Paradise has been released on DVD by The Criterion Collection as its 400th title.[7] 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.[7]


Stranger Than Paradise broke many conventions of traditional Hollywood filmmaking,[8] and became a landmark work in modern independent film.[7] 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.[9] It is cited for giving "an early example of the low-budget independent wave that would dominate the cinematic marketplace a decade later."[10] 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.[11][12] 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".[13]

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.[14] In 2003, Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #26 on their list of "The Top 50 Cult Films".[15] Empire Magazine put the film at 14 on its list of the 50 greatest independent films of all time.[16]


Stranger Than Paradise
Soundtrack album by John Lurie
Released 1986
Genre Experimental music
Label Enigma
John Lurie chronology
Stranger Than Paradise
Down By Law
Professional ratings
Review scores

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

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. 1 2 Hoberman, J. (September 3, 2007). "Paradise Regained". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
  2. Hartl, John (March 16, 2000). "New on videotape". The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 11, 2009.
  3. "Stranger Than Paradise (1984)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  4. Axmaker, Sean. "Stranger Than Paradise". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  5. Kael, Pauline (1987). State of the Art. New York: M. Boyars. pp. 260–263. ISBN 0-7145-2869-2.
  7. 1 2 3 "Stranger Than Paradise (1984)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  8. Tobias, Scott (May 19, 2004). "Jim Jarmusch". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 3, 2009.
  9. Deming, Mark. "Stranger Than Paradise > Overview". All Media Group. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  10. Williams, Karl. "Stranger Than Paradise > Review". All Media Group. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  11. 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.
  12. Rosenbaum, Jonathan (March 22, 1996). "A gun up your ass: an interview with Jim Jarmusch". Cineaste. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  13. Hirschberg, Lynn (July 31, 2005). "The Last of the Indies". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
  14. Rosenbaum, Johnathan (June 25, 1998). "List-o-Mania". Chicago Reader. Creative Loafing. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  15. "The Top 50 Cult Films". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. May 23, 2003.
  16. Empire Features
  17. Sheridan, Tim. "Stranger Than Paradise > Review". All Media Guide. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
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