Texasville (1990) is the sequel to The Last Picture Show (1971). Thirty years later, Duane, a handsome young oil worker, is now a middle-aged father, a husband, and an oil business entrepreneur. His wife is an alcoholic, his children are running amok, and his dog is his only friend.
He tries to make a difference, but nothing works. It doesn’t help that he’s a natural rogue, and emotionally closed-off. As a result, he’s resigned to his fate. Worrying about those around him. Allowing himself to be miserable and unfulfilled. He cheats on his wife. She cheats on him. It’s an acrimonious circle of lies and mutual contempt.
On the face of it, Duane is the town’s big success. He personifies the American dream. But his business is $12 million in debt. Oil money has come and gone. Duane’s family lives in a large home. They have a maid. Everything is on credit.
Duane is in trouble: much like America.
When we left Duane in The Last Picture Show he was handsome, young and dumb – ready to take on the world. He’d lost the town’s ‘sweetheart’, Jacy, and fallen out with his best friend (blinding Sonny in one eye). Incredibly he’d made up with Sonny shortly before being conscripted into the army.
Thirty years later…
Duane has made a life for himself in the town. He’s settled down and married, become an ‘oil man’. In spite of his superficial success nothing has worked out how he imagined. Jacy has ended up in Europe, living in Italy, enjoying a moderately successful acting career.
Back in Texas, dysfunction still resonates through the town, like a dark spell. It’s the same backwater it always was. Irrelevant. Dreary. A place of full of low expectations. It’s not quite as remote or cut off as it once was, but it’s still a nowhere town. And, Duane is middle aged. Getting fat. Neither he, nor any of the other characters have what they want.
Then, Jacy, the town’s ‘it’ girl, returns from glamorous Italy, after the death of her son. It’s unclear what her status is with her husband. Are they together? Are they separated? Whatever it is, she’s returning to her roots, hoping to reconnect with herself.
While The Last Picture Show featured an ensemble of characters, Texasville focuses more on Duane and Jacy. It’s their story. A story about growing up. Responsibilities. Being an adult. Dashed hopes. Letting go of youth. Letting go of impetuousness. The characters come to terms with who they are. It’s about friendship: rediscovering meaning and value through other people.
The Last Picture Show depicted a Carveresque world before Raymond Carver. A town of working-class people. Unfulfilled lives. Broken dreams. Broken hearts. Sonny has never recovered from Billy’s death at the end of The Last Picture Show. Now, in Texasville he’s experiencing increasingly problematic mental health problems. It’s getting to the point where he can’t differentiate between his imaginings and the real world. He’s a danger to himself. But his friends are there when he needs them, rallying around him to provide support. Although Sonny and Duane had put their differences aside at the end of The Last Picture Show, deep down Sonny resents Duane’s apparent success.
When Duane helps to organise the town festival, the town’s authentic rural roots are revealed to be little more than a glitzy heritage theme park. A museum of kitsch. The highpoint of classic Americana featured in The Last Picture Show has been replaced by the bland commercialism of modern America. The ‘Old American West’ has become a parody of itself.
Duane befriends Jacy within this changed world. This time their relationship is based on friendship, and not on lust. She frees him from the prison that he’s made for himself. This allows him to rethink his life, and to rebuild his marriage. And, through him, she is able to move on from her loss.
The town, and the people, have changed – and they have endured that change. For Duane and Jacy the town will always be their home. For Duane, the stupidity of youth has given way to newfound perspective and wisdom. Now that he has a real friend in Jacy, he allows her to take his dog. In contrast, Sonny, haunted by the past, and unable to reach out to Duane, is denied a future.