A Week in the Life of Paterson

Jim Jarmusch’s brilliant look at dreams, poetry and love

Feb. 22, 2017
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Paterson wakes up every morning, more or less at the same time, and on weekdays walks to his job as bus driver in a city whose name he shares, Paterson, New Jersey. Twins are everywhere in this film—on the park bench he passes on his way to work and on the seats of his bus. He meets African-American twins named Sam and Dave at his favorite bar. And the pairing extends into the realm of the inanimate. His metal lunchbox looks as if separated at the factory from his mailbox.

Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is an oddly compelling puzzle of a film. As usual for Jarmusch, an undercurrent of dry humor runs through Paterson along with multiple hipster-literary references. Iggy Pop finds his way into the conversation. So does Petrarch. And the twins keep coming: Paterson’s beautiful Iranian wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) resembles the “Panther Woman” in the 1932 horror film they check out at the local cinema, The Island of Lost Souls.

Paterson (Adam Driver) is a poet who keeps his words to himself. We hear (and see) the lines he composes as he walks to the bus depot. Mostly they concern his love for Laura, but he seems hard pressed to express himself in any other way. Paterson’s feelings are largely stillborn. Moreover, despite Laura’s prodding, he’s too shy to show his work to anyone.

Laura is the opposite number to the phlegmatic Paterson. The ebullient artist is always painting pictures, making clothes or drapery—usually in her favorite colors, black and white. She dreams of launching a cupcake company (frosting in black and white) and even of becoming a country singer (she learns to play on a black and white guitar). She wakes up telling Paterson that she’s just dreamed of having twins. Laura has too many dreams at arm’s reach from reality. Paterson doesn’t dream enough.

Paterson follows its namesake Monday through Monday as he marks time in a life that has idled. He wheels his bus along the proscribed route on weekdays; at night he walks his dog to the neighborhood tap owned by an elderly African American with great taste in soul and jazz (he dreams of winning a chess tournament). Then Paterson walks home, goes to sleep and resumes the cycle the following morning.

From what’s shown in the film, Paterson, New Jersey, is a town whose better days were years ago. A relatively short ride yet a world away from Manhattan, Paterson (as the film reminds us) was where Allen Ginsberg grew up and was also home to the protagonist’s favorite poet, William Carlos Williams, whose collection, Paterson, sits on his desk. Genius rose from its streets and Jarmusch is alert as usual to quirky local color visuals such as the Lou Costello Memorial. Will another brilliant poet come forth from this old mill town? The question is one of the recurring themes throughout Jarmusch’s brilliantly intriguing film.

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