Paterson

 

            In the midst of movie offerings that feature incredible CGI graphics, save-the-world superheroes, fanciful magical powers, family histrionics, wartime chaos, and over-the-top scatology, Director Jim Jarmusch gives us something remarkably different:  the seemingly ordinary.

            Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey.  Every morning, he wakes up at the same time (between 6:10 and 6:30).  He nuzzles his pretty young wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and she purrs in response, then drifts back to sleep.  He gets up and eats a small bowl of cheerios, grabs his lunchbox which she prepared for him the night before, and walks to work.  His supervisor greets him, he climbs in the bus and begins his route.  Passengers come and go constantly.  He occasionally hears snippets of conversation---about meeting women at a party, about anarchist writers of the previous century, about almost anything at all.

            Paterson walks home the same way, picks up the mail from the leaning mailbox, and tries to set it straight again.  Perky Laura always greets him with enthusiasm, because she's a bubbly, creative type that's always on a project:  new curtains, cupcakes, a new recipe (a brussel sprout and cheddar cheese pie?).  She tends to decorate everything in a black and white variation, but Paterson doesn't mind.  He always encourages her, even when she tells him her dream of becoming a country music star, and would he please buy her this nice guitar with a home teaching course?  He doesn't even blink, much less argue.

            Paterson's only real passion seems to be writing poetry, except it's the free-verse, narrative kind. It's supposed to be patterned after the famous poet from Paterson, New Jersey, William Carlos Williams, the so-called “imagist” style that sounds so simple and casual: “I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox/ and which/ you were probably /saving/ for breakfast /forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet /and so cold/

            Paterson very carefully writes his poetry longhand, in a diary, and happy Laura tells him how wonderful they are, and he should consider getting them published.  Other than their English bulldog, who probably enjoys way too much screen time, the only other venue is the local bar, where Paterson goes every night while walking the dog, and has exactly one beer.  There are some relational dramas that play out while Paterson is sitting there drinking his beer, and we finally realize that's his entertainment.  He doesn't read books.  He doesn't watch television.  He doesn't have a cell phone.  He doesn't play video games.  He doesn't play sports or even work out.  His life is minimalism pushing toward nihilism.

            People are going to respond to this movie differently.  Some are going to claim it takes them to a happy place where marital relationships are loving and affirming, and life is peaceful.  Others will claim that there is a kind of profound poetry in living a simple life, when all about you is chaos and complication.  Others will claim that this movie is DOA, nothing happens, and not only does it go nowhere, it's interminably slow in getting there.  Perhaps each response is valid, in its own context.

Perhaps your response to this quiet, slice-of-life movie says more about you than it does the film itself.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever tried your hand at poetry?  Writing of any kind?

2)                  What ambition of your spouse/significant other/best friend did you think was pure fantasy?

3)                  What ambition of yours have others encouraged you to pursue?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association