Permanent Vacation

Permanent Vacation ★★★½

Aloysious Christopher Parker, who refers to himself as “Allie” when he is spray painting graffiti on walls and who idolizes the jazz legend, Charlie Parker, ambles aimlessly through the streets of a downtown Manhattan that seems almost as empty and desolate as his life purpose. Even when he interacts with his girlfriend and his institutionalized mother, he talks in a languid manner, as though he is looking at the world through a dream lens superimposed over his own unconventional pop culture influences. As he strolls through dilapidated neighborhood alleyways and the near-deserted ruins of old buildings, he crosses paths with an eclectic mix of characters and continues to withdraw into his own detached soul.

The experience of watching Permanent Vacation, the 1980 feature-length directorial debut of Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law), is sort of like competing in a foot race against a snail and losing miserably. Interestingly enough, though, this 75-minute narrative of wanderings amid rubble-strewn landscapes serves to bring us closer to the mindset of its lead, played by Chris Parker, and into a decades-old New York City that is noticeably different than its current incarnation. I will not go so far as to say that this movie is riveting, but I found myself able to settle into its offbeat minimalist nuances comfortably well.

As with subsequent Jarmusch films, this one leans heavily on music to elicit emotions. Two of the more engaging sequences involve Allie listening to jazz or saxophone music, and the leisurely style of the setup allows us to lose ourselves in watching him lose himself.

There's not much of a plot here, but what we are left with is an assortment of scenarios that predate the musings of people in Terry Zwigoff's 2001 work, Ghost World, with helpings of J.D Salinger and James Joyce thrown into the fold.

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