As new parents soon learn, the world looks different through a child’s eyes. Following a similar notion in Mystery Train, director Jim Jarmusch uses visiting foreigners to provide a different perspective on the uniquely American myth of Elvis Presley. Conceptually ambitious, Mystery Train tells three simultaneous, interrelated stories, connecting them with repeated scenes and overlapping events. The film doesn’t shed light on much of anything, but its offbeat characters, fine cinematography, and novel structure make for entertaining viewing.
Global village gridlock begins with the arrival (by train, naturally) in Memphis of two Japanese teenagers, colorful pop culture vultures on a musical sightseeing mission. The couple beds down at a fleabag hotel. In the second section, a young Italian widow on her way to Rome winds up at the same hotel, sharing a sleepless night with an apparition and a ditzy young woman fleeing her English boyfriend. He, in turn, is involved in a drunken, violent robbery of a liquor store in the third episode.
Mystery Train is packed with rock & roll references (the title comes from a song that Presley made a hit). What Jarmusch is saying about American music is rather vague, but his recognition that its cultural influence is nearly universal sets the film on the right track. B+