Sunday, 18 December 2016

Paterson: How a Poet Lives in the World

I went to see the film Paterson (directed by Jim Jarmusch) this weekend. I think this film was a double rarity: it was not only a film about a poet, but the poet was a fictional character who is unlikely to ever become famous. In that regard it was very different from the beautiful Bright Star, which is about Keats and probably my favourite poetry film (not that I have many contenders.)

Paterson is a very quiet story about a man named Paterson (Adam Driver) who works as a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. Paterson is also the title of an epic poem by William Carlos Williams, about the same city, and William Carlos Williams is the one real poet who gets quite a lot of time in the film. The film's Paterson goes to work and has a peaceful, loving relationship with his girlfriend (wife?) Laura (Goldshifteh Farahani). He writes poetry when he can and Laura encourages him, particularly as she is also artistic. There is also a dog, Marvin, who I must say was a consummate actor.

This is the quietest of films, and the plot twist - if it can be called a plot twist - was very obvious. The poetry was just ok (which is probably realistic). What made the film beautiful to me was the way in which it depicted a poet's perceptions of the world and the way they move through it. A poet is both more absent and more present in the world than other people, and Adam Driver's lovely performance depicted this perfectly. There was an interior-ness to the camerawork which was wonderful. We seemed to be seeing through the poet's eyes, in the way that poets notice certain things, pattern their worlds, and encounter situations in a way that seems to be almost synchronicity but is probably a form of confirmation bias leading to writing. All of this was done very perceptively through subtle camera angles. The moments of actual poetic creation, or the moments on the cusp of creation, also had a layered/surreal feel which contrasted with the other scenes.

Paterson isn't a perfect film but I thought that this portrayal of a artist's mind and the artistic process was quite rare and beautiful, and that it was worth seeing for those aspects alone.


  1. Hey Clarissa, I watched Paterson recently and thought I'd come back to your post.

    I loved Paterson, Jim Jarmusch has become one of my favorite contemporary directors. If you liked the feel and pace of Paterson, you'll like his other films.

    Your comment about how poets are both very absent and very present in the world is very interesting. Paterson is a very quiet, introspective person, but one who is always ready to engage in conversation with practically anyone who crosses his path (the laundromat musician, the Japanese tourist, the little girl).

    And did you know the poetry in the film was written by a contemporary author? I thought it was well chosen because it matches the movie so well. It sounded very modern and of-the-moment, which is to say, not quite my taste :)

    1. Hi Paula, it's lovely to hear from you! I hope you're well. I miss seeing new posts on your blog, though! (hint hint!)

      Glad you got to see Paterson. I don't think I have seen other Jim Jarmusch films so I will keep it in mind.

      Yes, I did learn afterwards that the poetry was by Ron Padgett. I feel a bit similarly, I think. It certainly wasn't bad poetry, but perhaps it's not really to my taste. But the depiction of how Paterson worked on the poetry, and how the poems grew out of his life, was outstanding.