I Watched Paterson.
In late July, I started following Hideo Kojima’s twitter account on the suggestion of a friend. He had urged that I would really enjoy his output, not only from a video game standpoint, but also from a film and ‘literature’ standpoint as well. I hadn’t realized that he was such a “fan of things”. He truly gushes about some of the coolest stuff, has some great suggestions, and is a very good starting place for someone like me who is a total mediaphile, constantly seeking out new content to devour.
In late July he posted about a film called Paterson starring Adam Driver. He described the day in the life of the protagonist, as a man who woke next to his love, went to work, came home, wrote a poem, and ended the day by walking his dog down to the local bar for a single beer. It sounded idyllic, quaint. I figured this would simply be a bare skeleton of the plot, giving a timeline for the character from a far off perspective. But as it turns out, this is the core of the film, the cycle in which we’re thrown alongside this man. The film takes us one by one through the days of Paterson’s week as he does just what was described: waking, living, writing, walking. Everything is paced and steady and predictable.
Paterson is played by Adam Driver, and I don’t know if I can picture the likable stoicism portrayed by anyone in quite the same way. In his steadfastness and repetitive nature, there is still a tense spirit, an observer and an organic process happening at all times. It’s a nuanced performance that is delivered without flare. While shot beautifully, for Driver’s part, he doesn’t need much to assist him in the way he carries the impact.
Paterson is a poet, writing a poem every day or two that snapshot the Life of a Man on Earth. The pieces are basic, handmade, spun down. And while the works don’t agonize over the art or the verbiage, you can hear the vocal delivery as he churns out word after word in the voiceover and as the words become scrolled across the screen. The film isn’t necessarily about poetry, as much as it acknowledges the necessity of it. He writes about a box of matches, about the sun across snow, about dimensions and joy. And from my perspective, in his ordinary life in which he drives a bus silently through a tightly packed, smaller populated city with a flighty and detached partner, these poems are his [only] joy.
There are a few things I battled with in the film. Did I like these poems? Their basic nature, their conversational and plain stances on devices and places and objects that we interact with every day… was there a lost art in the observation of these things? Was it more beautiful because he looked at them plainly as any human could? Was there a stronger element of humanity because he didn’t reach into a gilded emotional sector? Was it his constance, his dedication that framed the beauty of the craft? The poems without the man might not have been remarkable, but seeing and meeting and following the person that wrote them, maybe that’s the art of it. Maybe that singularity is what can bring us the enjoyment of the writer, what’s written, what we choose to write.
This is somewhat addressed towards the end of the film in a chance meeting with a Japanese fan of poetry outside a waterfall on the edge of town. Through the barrier of their language, they discuss their favorite poet, William Carlos Williams, and quasi-recognize each other’s love of poetry, both as readers as well as writers. While the visitor has his poetry with him, it’s all in Japanese, so Paterson doesn’t have a chance to read them. But Paterson also, through a series of events during the weekend, doesn’t have his poetry with him either. But there is a mutual respect there. There is a solemn nod to one another about the medium that they both share. And in a kind gesture, our visitor gifts Paterson an empty notebook to fill with new poetry. There’s something there that as a writer, a creator, a poet(?), a human being, I can relate to as almost being the greatest gift of them all. The man also leaves the most impactful line of the movie for me, one which will always resonate with me:
“Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.”
Another element there is the vision of a skin I’m trying desperately to shed. There was no competition between one another, no judgement, no embitterment or comparison. They were happy for one another. Even earlier when Paterson listens to the poem of a young girl about the rain, he enjoys it. He remembers it and later recites it.
The other thing that I’m somewhat torn on is the existence of his significant other, played by Golshifteh Farahani. That’s a strange sentence, because I don’t think she doesn’t exist, although now that I write it out, maybe she doesn’t. This could honestly be a completely different element for a different type of film. I may have to go back and watch to see what kinds of holes are present there. But my actual question here is what’s her… ‘purpose’? While we follow Paterson through most of his day, we do get brief glimpses into what Laura does throughout the day. It’s general “free spirited artist” activity. Making curtains, painting shower curtains, dreaming of being a guitar player, being a master baker, hole punching long stripes of paper, painting her dresses, painting the door frames. It doesn’t appear that she has any form of income as Paterson’s bus driving is the method in which they win bread. But it seems that she’s waiting for her big break, waiting for one of these endeavors to play out in her favor.
I don’t see her particularly as his MUSE, though while watching it you get two parallel concepts from the way that he reacts with his wife. You watch his adoration for her while they lay in bed in the mornings together, but most of what we see is him balancing her ideas on the tip of his mind, if they are good or bad or just sort of tolerated. What is their love? She seems to love and encourage his writing and his poetry. He seems to encourage all of her musings. But outside of their waking moments in bed, one never gets to watch their love blossom or smolder or appear. It never falters but it never flourishes. Is it there?
Sitting through the two hours of the film, I wasn’t sure how I was feeling about it, or how I was feeling at all. It was like listening to a long meandering story from a friend sitting at home, one in which you’re waiting for the shoe to fall. And as it all began to conclude with no climax or overly powerful resolution, I hit that diverging path. My heart really opened up to this film and its main character and his world. The more I thought about it and ran it over my palette, the more I realized I did find beauty and love within it.
It wasn’t until the screen turned black and I saw the words “DIRECTED BY JIM JARMUSCH” that I finally understood with what a deft hand this portrait was painted. This is the master of patience, the man who is in no rush to make a point, to get to the matter at hand. He makes studies in the human cycle, in the ordinary and mundane and how one can find a resonant glow within it all. The day to day, “the grind”, is the only time we have. The conversations with the same people every day are the only places that we really have to make a huge difference in our own lives. I shouldn’t have to know that it was Jarmusch that directed it to enjoy it, but sometimes it helps to know where it’s coming from. Almost like the Pepsi Taste Test. Although I am a huge fan of anonymity and allowing content to speak for itself. For example, I feel that instagram might almost be a better app if we only chose who to follow, but our photos were put up on a feed without giving any credit to the artist until the photo itself was actually liked. I think we allow our leanings and connections to the people behind the content to affect our opinions of it. But wasn’t that the point of what I was saying about the humanity behind the poetry earlier?
Great film and highly recommended. I will say that it should take your full attention to really get the complete connection to it and therefore the entire message to you. Also, I mean, hey… you might really like the dog.