How does one make poetry in film? Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s most recent film, takes on this issue by taking on the poetic style of William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, presenting, through the film form, reality breaking in through the prosaic rhythm of life. The film follows Paterson, a poetry-writing bus driver played by Adam Driver, and his loving relationship with his wife, Laura. Unlike so many couples presented in contemporary film, Paterson and Laura share a loving and supportive relationship. Though their perspectives are quite different and they encounter several situations that could potential cause marital strife, they remain supportive of one another, not out of trite romanticism but because they accept the other as they are.
In a film so subdued, it is easy to forget film form, yet it would be a great mistake. Jarmusch has directed many art-film masterpieces, such as Mystery Train, Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law, and Dead Man (the last three filmed in black and white). His films are often marked by their use of long silence, lingering long shots, and restrained use of camera movement, revealing Jarmusch’s keen awareness of framing. In Paterson, though, Jarmusch dials back the more sexy aspects of film form to emphasize the prosaic rhythm of Paterson’s life and his observation of small day-to-day change.
This is not to say the film lacks form; rather, its simplicity suggests the fine-tuned practice of one who has learned to express with subsidy. The film spans a single week, each new day marked by an overhead shot of the couple sleeping in their bed. Two construction workers sit on a bus recounting their failed love escapades, a pole diving the shot and characters. Two high schoolers sit beside one another discussing the history of anarchy. Paterson sits at a bar beside a love-lorn friend, trying to comfort him. Toward the end of the film, the camera lingers on Paterson sitting alone after a (different) friend leaves the frame, creating a lack of balance, suggesting the need of the other. The last shot of the film mirrors this one: Paterson gets out of bed to go to work, leaving Laura alone in the right side of the frame. Like Paterson’s simple poetry, which he composes throughout the film, Jarmusch uses subdued cyclical form to express the complexity of reality and acceptance of otherness.
Paterson is available to watch for free on Amazon Prime Video to all Prime subscribers.
Samuel Potter is a senior studying English.