Jim Jarmusch wanted to create the cinematic equivalent of a poem. The beats and rhythms are poetic, and the main character, while a poet himself, follows a routine from one day to the next, with minor variations.
Whatever it all means if up to you.
While Jarmusch had the idea for Paterson, his latest tale starring Adam Driver, for some time, for whatever reason or reasons it never came to be. It wasn’t until he finished up Only Lovers Left Alive that this ten-year-old story came to fruition. “When I finished Only Lovers, I had the script for Paterson, and thought, ‘okay now it’s time’,” said Jarmusch during a visit to Toronto to promote the film at TIFF. “They tell me more than I tell them. I’m not very good at preparing. My favourite plan is having no plan, so I’m not real good at establishing what I’m going to do next, I kind of wait for them to tell me.”
The story centers on a man named Paterson who happens to live in the suburban town of Paterson, New Jersey. That Driver’s character shares a name with the city is just one incident of twinning and coincidences in the film; there are many motifs as this quiet, curious story unfolds.
“I wanted the character to have a working class job and be an artist, a poet,” said Jarmusch, who made Paterson a bus driver. “I love the idea of floating through the city, getting bits of conversation. No poets have ever been in it for the money. It’s not like a big lucrative job.”
Like Jarmusch, Paterson is a fan of poet William Carlos Williams, and spends leisure time, and sometimes moments at work, scrawling poems in a notebook, reciting them to the audience. Sometimes they’re not quite finished; some progress as the film moves towards its finale.
“I think of this with a poetic structure,” continued Jarmusch. “Seven days of the week is a simple thing, like stanzas. The idea of variations within each day is different than her next, but with repitition. The three worlds of the film – the home, the bus, the bar – are patterns that he has that are helpful to him so that you can flow and think and be a poet as well. All are interrelated.:
Paterson embraces the rhythms of the day, going to work, coming home, and taking his dog for a walk while stopping at a bar. He cooks and spends time with his wife, but life is uneventful on a bigger scale. He is a simple, thoughtful, and friendly man whose seemingly mundane are captivating to watch. He enjoys his artistic endeavors purely for himself; his wife wants him to get work published. Paterson writes to write.
“He is not so self reflective, he enjoys writing poetry and writes some good ones based on little details, daily life,” said Jarmusch. “I think he wants to keep doing that. He’s a little bit self conscious about the poems, intimated, so he just keeps writing. He’s good at it; it’s obviously something important to him.”
“It’s not the recognition,” Jarmusch concluded. “I’ve tried to follow all my life that when we as filmmakers make films, we make them for ourselves. When you start to think, what does the world want, then you’re into marketing and other things, and that’s okay, there’s entertainment that arises from that. But that’s not my job.”