by Liliana Guzman
You might say Paterson is a movie where nothing happens. A man named Paterson, lives in Paterson, New Jersey and drives a bus. He wakes up around the same time every morning, kisses his wife goodbye, and goes to work. After driving his rounds he comes home, walks the dog, hits up the neighborhood bar, and goes to bed. We join him on his daily routine and nothing too exciting happens…right? Well maybe on the surface, but Paterson invites us to dive deeper than that, to not look past the details and to notice the little things that we experience each day.
Now, before watching the film, I was not familiar with the real life poet William Carlos Williams, who I soon became very interested in after watching Paterson a few times. Williams was a doctor and prolific writer from Rutheford, New Jersey. He wrote, really, all of his life from his first poems in 1909 to his later works in the late 1950s. (Some might say Paterson the character is the incarnation of his lengthy epic poem of the same name published between 1946 to 1958). I, personally, could go on about the similarities between the two, but I really want to focus on the fact that both Paterson and Williams lived a fairly, what most would consider, “normal” life in a small town. In the later half of his life, Williams wrote an autobiography and in the forward he makes a moving statement, “As a writer, I have been a physician, and as a physician a writer; and as both writer and physician I have served sixty-eight years of a more or less uneventful existence, not more than half a mile from where I happen to have been born." Now, I would hardly call his existence “uneventful,” but then again it was this quiet and ordinary life that gave him the inspiration, musings and stories that turned into a truly large collection of beautiful renowned literary work.
The ordinary can often be seen in Williams’ poetry. His use of simple vocabulary, for instance, makes his work accessible and almost easy to read. Short poems paint a picture of flowers by the window, or as we heard in the film, plums from the icebox. But the more we read or in Paterson’s case watch, we begin to pick up on this hidden beauty, that’s hardly ordinary or boring at all. Jim Jarmusch captures this with such grace scene by scene.
Take, for instance, the symbolic repetition of twins. In the very first few minutes of the film, Paterson’s wife Laura tells him of her dream, where they had twin children. Now, at first this is nothing more than sweet pillow talk. Though soon enough we catch a glimpse of two old men who appear to betwins on the way to work. Then again we see little twin girls crossing the street and again at the bar and again, they are everywhere! Laura’s dream is now surrounding him. Something usually meaningless for most, is suddenly very special and real for Paterson and we can’t help but feel involved in his surprise after he sees them appear everywhere he goes. Laura’s dream follows him.
These coincidences can be spotted throughout the movie taking different shapes and forms but all pointing us to the same direction, ultimately that poetry is simply living life. The waterfall is another example, another theme that makes its way into his life in different and surprisingly graceful ways. The little girl he met after work (also one half of a twin of course) begins her poem with “Water falls from the bright air, it falls like hair, falling across a young girl’s shoulder.” The connections Paterson has with the young poet, their secret notebooks, and the imagery of her poem again brings a beautiful abstract part of his own life and makes it real for him. In a way poetry does the same for us, finding a way to capture or grasp emotions, dreams, moments transforming them into words on the page in front of us.
Aside from the action of the film, the dialogue and words spoken emphasize the fact that inspiration is around us and you don’t have to live in a booming city, or travel the world to find it. The overheard conversations on the bus, for instance, some of which also involve how the town itself is meaningful to that character; the little boys who mention the famous boxer, or the young anarchists. This small town has a story for everyone and everyone contributes to that story. I’ve lived in a small Midwestern town for most of my life and watching this film and reading Williams' words and poetry is a reminder that you can just live, no matter how simple or “boring” a life and always be in the presence of poetic beauty. The details Jarmusch highlights in the film, cinematographically even, in the short frames of looking around the living space of Paterson and Laura’s home, tells an entire story in just a shot of a photograph or a painting on the wall. That is poetry and that is the overlooked and ordinary beauty that surrounds us.
Ultimately, behind the routine, and even the boring, there lives a quiet importance and inspiration. Paterson sees this, he’s aware of it, and throughout the film we slowly begin to see and understand Paterson’s world, our world, and its poetry and light. It’s there if we are looking, listening, dreaming…