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Saturday, April 15, 2017


Jim Jarmusch's latest film is about a bus driver with the soul of a poet, but really it's about a city. It's certainly not coincidence is that Paterson, set in Paterson, New Jersey, has a main character named Paterson (we never even learn his first name). Because Paterson the character is Paterson the city and vice versa. After all, two great poets--William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, came from Paterson.

The film is also about the beauty that can be found in routine. Paterson is set over seven days, and each begins with our hero, Adam Driver, in bed with his wife, Golshifteh Farahani. He eats cereal for breakfast, walks from his small house to the bus depot. He starts out every morning after greeting his boss, the kind of guy when you ask "how are things going" tells you the truth.

Driver drives his route, occasionally listening in on passengers' conversations. He has lunch in a park overlooking Paterson's waterfall, jotting down lines in his notebook. He comes home, rights the listing mailbox, has dinner, and takes his dog for a walk. While on the walk he stops in at the local bar for a beer. The next day it starts all over again.

But I didn't find this boring nor do I think the characters did. It's not a film about a character facing a life of quiet desperation. Driver, as Paterson, is perfectly happy with his life. His marriage seems good, though Farahani, who does not work, is wrapped up in many projects, from cupcakes to country music, which she describes as her dreams (all feature black and white color schemes). Driver sometimes speaks to her like a child--"Oh, that's great"--and that sort of thing, but she never senses any patronization.

There are recurring themes, such as the frequency of twins, and who is the most famous resident of Paterson (in addition to the poets, we hear about Hurricane Carter and Lou Costello, and an anarchist named Gaetano Bresci). A running subplot in the bar is a young man who pines for a woman who will not go back to him. He provides the only major drama when he pulls out a gun, which turns out to be a toy.

I started wondering if this film would have a conflict, but really the conflict is Driver's refusal to share his poetry with anyone, despite his wife's insistence. This reluctance leads to the climax of the film, to which Driver reacts stoically, though any writer would be horrified. The film has a lovely coda when he meets with a Japanese tourist, who has come to Paterson just because William Carlos Williams lived there.

This film is certainly not for everyone, especially those who need explosions or raging arguments. I don't believe Driver raises his voice the entire film. Another actor and director might have created a blank character, but despite his placidity Driver's Paterson seems very deep. How many bus drivers write poetry?

I should add that in order for the film to work, the poems have to be good, and they are, written by Ron Padgett.

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