PATERSON directed by Jim Jarmusch (USA, 2016)
What does take to be a poet? A way with words and a keen eye helps. Then you need time, both to think and to write. The Welsh poet, W.H. Davies wrote “A poor life this is if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”, the first lines of ‘Leisure’ published in 1911.
The title of Jim Jarmusch’s gentle and warm-hearted movie has three main points of reference: Paterson, the city in New Jersey, the title of an epic poem by William Carlos Williams and the name of a conscientious bus driver.
The location is the birthplace of Lou Costello of Abbot & Costello fame and it is also where a triple homicide took place that led to the wrongful arrest of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter in 1966.
The poem of this name runs to five volumes, published between 1946 and 1958. It is regarded as a key work of modernism and imagism.
Paterson, the bus driver, is played by the appropriately named Adam Driver. He is a married man who leads an uneventful life which follows a set routine. On weekday mornings he wakes between 6-6.30am, eats a bowl of honey hoops for breakfast then walks to work. After his shift he returns home to have a modest home-cooked dinner with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Later he takes his Boxer dog (Marvin) for an evening walk and always stops to have a glass of beer at the local bar.
Paterson is a man of few words, at least of the spoken variety. In his head he has plenty. These he sets down in a notebook and they form in a series of Haiku-like poems composed in the style if William Carlos Williams.
His quietly eccentric wife dreams of either being a country singer or a cup cake queen but Paterson has no obvious ambitions. He seems content with his quiet life. It gives him plenty of time to stand and stare.
The plot and tone of movie is deliberately at odds with the loud, action-packed picture shows that too often pass for entertainment these days. In a way, it’s a kind of analogue film. Paterson refuses to buy a smart phone, he writes by hand and the bar he goes to has a strict no TV policy. The customers and barman talk, play chess or listen to the jukebox. When Paterson and Laura go out for the evening, they choose an old black and white 1932 ‘horror’ movie Island Of The Lost Souls.
As with most Jim Jarmusch movies, not a lot happens. A broken down bus and the misbehaviour of the dog are the most dramatic scenes. When it comes to the dialogue, what is left unsaid is as important as the lines spoken.
In all Jarmusch films the incidental details and cultural product placements are as crucial as the plot devices. There’s a cameo by rapper Method Man, a place for a photo of Iggy Pop on the bar’s wall of fame and this is the second of his movies in a row to prominently feature a copy of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (it was one of the books packed by the vampire Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive).
If you can tap into some or all of these references then you’re on the director’s wavelength. If, on the other hand, you find the pedestrian pace and deadpan conversations irritating then you are clearly unfamiliar with his past movies and would be better off with a conventional blockbuster.
But if you are looking for a modern movie with warmth, humanity and poetry then Paterson is an unmissable treat.