Review by Pamela Zoslov
— William Carlos Williams, introduction to Paterson
Last year, Jim Jarmusch gave us a film highlighting the poetry of the simple-sounding lyrics of rock musician Iggy Pop. Today he brings us a film about the poetry found in the everyday, the rhythms of quotidian life, and the influence of place on individual creativity. The model is William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), the esteemed American poet who worked for more than forty years as a physician in Rutherford, New Jersey, and drew his early inspiration from the stories (“inarticulate poems”) of his patients, jotted down on prescription pads or typed in spare minutes between appointments.
Our hero is Paterson (Adam Driver, well cast), a man who drives a city bus and in his spare time writes poetry in a small notebook. He leads a very regular life, awakening every morning at 6:15 beside his pretty, lively wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), carries his lunch pail to work and writes in his notebook before starting his shift carrying passengers across Paterson. After work, he walks the couple's bulldog, ties the dog's leash to a post and stops at the corner bar for a beer. On a special night, he and Laura go to the movies (they see Island of Lost Souls at a local repertory cinema).
Laura spends her time pursuing a range of artistic endeavors, from painting everything in their house with black and white circle patterns, baking cupcakes she hopes to turn into a business, or buying a mail-order guitar to help her pursue her unlikely dream of becoming a country-and-western star. The couple's genuine love — he is quietly supportive of her dreams and enjoys her sweetness, she takes an interest in his daily life and his poetry, encouraging him to “do something” with his poems, or at least make photocopies of them.
The film shares Paterson's poems with us, recited by Paterson and written in script across the screen; they are about things mundane (a box of Ohio Blue Tip matches), romantic, and spiritual (marital love). The poems in the film (more commonplace than Williams') were written by Ron Padgett, a poet admired by Jarmusch (they both studied English literature and poetry at Columbia).
Not a lot happens in Paterson, and that's exactly the point. The unfolding of the rhyming days, the “inarticulate poems” of the bus passengers, bar regulars and other plain people. Oh, there are incidents — a lovesick man threatens violence at the bar, Paterson's bus breaks down — but the movie really is about the texture of everyday life, the ordinary inspiration for extraordinary creativity, and poetic synchronicities. Laura shares a dream she had about twins, and the next day Paterson sees twins everywhere. The little girl poet shares a poem about a waterfall, Laura hangs up a picture of a waterfall, and Paterson meets a Japanese poet beside the Passaic Falls. Every thing has meaning, just as Williams wrote famously:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Jarmusch, who comes from Akron, Ohio, has previously explored similar themes (NIGHT ON EARTH, 1995, told stories of cab drivers in five different cities), but in recent years he seems to have grown away from hipster cant (STRANGER THAN PARADISE, DOWN BY LAW) and genre exercises (GHOST DOG, THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI) in search of greater artistic purity, even in something as unlikely as GIMME DANGER, the documentary about his favorite band, The Stooges. There is a slowness and repetitiveness to PATERSON that won't please everyone, but it is a poem, an often beautiful one that expresses the spirit of William Carlos Williams' oft-quoted line from Paterson: “No ideas but in things.” Grade: A