Published on March 22nd, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
Adam Driver plays a bus driver / poet named Paterson, in a town called Paterson, taken from one of William Carlos Williams’ most famous works, Paterson.
Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Paterson, frequently name checks the poet William Carlos Williams, which is apt, considering Williams wrote a very famous work called Paterson. (Not to mention that the type of poetry written by Jarmusch’s lead character is similar to Williams’ Imagist style). However, another apt verse came into my head while watching the film, from Henry David Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them.” (Yes, I’m aware that’s not what he actually wrote in Walden. What he actually wrote was, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” But this version of it is what sprang to mind).
Paterson is about a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who also happens to be named Paterson. Paterson, in a subtle but affecting performance from Adam Driver, gets up every morning, walks to work, drives his bus all day, then returns to his wife, dog, and favourite bar each night. In between, he writes poetry.
Paterson’s wife Laura is played wonderfully by Golshifteh Farahani (perhaps channeling a smarter version of Fabienne from Pulp Fiction (Butch’s girlfriend who famously said, “pot bellies are sexy”). She spends her days being artsy, whether that means painting things in the house (both things that make sense and things that don’t), baking cupcakes for the farmer’s market, or deciding on a whim that it has always been her dream to learn guitar and be a country music star.
The movie has a low key sense of humour, in fact, it’s probably too highly stylized or played for quirky humour to be a genuine character study. Yet, there are some wonderful little details, like the painted spare tire cover on the back of Laura’s SUV, winking from the background as they load cupcakes into the trunk. Or the look on Paterson’s face when Laura says she has ordered a guitar for several hundred dollars. He has just heard a pessimistic coworker complain about finances, and he knows his wife isn’t going to become a Nashville star, but he loves her, and he indulges her. Again, a very low key, but effective way for the movie to showcase his feelings and their relationship — it’s what he doesn’t say that says so much.
The movie definitely has its own pace, which fans of Jarmusch won’t be surprised about. Some might complain that it suffers from a lack of tension or stakes, but like William Carlos Williams, it feels more like Jarmusch is interested in the details of life and drawing some inspiration from the little things.
The movie is not for those who don’t enjoy artier movies, but it’s a heartfelt, quirky, and subtle portrait of the everyday artist. William Carlos Williams himself was a doctor, by the way, not a full time poet. Most artists don’t get to do the thing they love to make a living, instead, they toil away at day jobs while working on their art, whatever it is, in their spare moments — and living for those moments. Paterson captures this, while showing that being the unsung artist is still a life well lived, not always a trudge to the grave in “quiet desperation.”