Paterson Programme Note


The film is designed to just drift over you’ - Jim Jarmusch

The latest film from cult auteur Jim Jarmuch (hot-on-the-heels of his Iggy & the Stooges documentary Gimmie Danger) is a quiet, meditative look at the life of poet and bus driver Paterson, who happens to reside in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. Paterson (played with quiet dignity by rising star Adam Driver) lives with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their dog Marvin. It has been called the director’s most personal film in recent years due to its subject matter: an outsider artist whose work is wry, observational and above all, poetic (although Jarmusch would be quick to distance himself from this claim[1]).

The central couple live a very harmonious and creative existence despite being essentially opposite in their approach to art. Paterson approaches his life and work methodically, with each day following a careful routine, like the structure of a long-form poem. Laura on the other hand is almost entirely mercurial, flitting between passions and art forms with only her monochrome palette as a guiding light. Despite these differences, or perhaps because of them, the film shows how they ‘complete each other’, with their lives carefully weaving around one another and each partner proving an inspiration to the other.[2] In some ways, the couple’s idealised domesticity can be seen as anachronistic – living their lives in complete private and disconnect, unaware of wider social strife and the anxieties that plague contemporary life. This is typified by the couple’s choice of night out, a trip to see the 1932 film The Island of Lost Souls at a local repertory movie theatre, where Laura becomes absorbed in the black and white imagery whilst Paterson continues to observe society from afar – craning his neck to see other movie-goers.

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The film has a very deliberate structure – seven days and seven poems – echoing the verse structure of a poem. This is emphasised through repetition of shots, with the camera carefully observing Paterson and Laura asleep in bed, or Paterson tying up Marvin before he has his one beer of the evening. Jarmusch has recognised his love of this in all forms of art, stating: ‘I love variation and repetition in poetry. I love repeated things, whether it is in Bach or Andy Warhol’.[3] This creates a rhythmic flow that the audience quickly learn, and Jarmsuch is able to draw attention to small details, such as the squint mailbox, that can build into a narrative pay-off later in the film. There is no clear narrative journey, with the only major challenges to Paterson’s solemn existence (his bus breaking down and his poetry notebook being shredded) being met with acceptance and the ability to move on. In this way, the Jarmusch film Paterson resembles greatest is his debut Permanent Vacation (which features John Lurie aimlessly wandering around New York City for it’s duration). The lack of distinct plot points further represents not only Paterson’s approach to poetry but also the perfect circle of Paterson and Laura’s relationship, and how they are able to overcome their obstacles through one another.

The film further emphasises this repetition through a recurring motif of twins and twinning, from the literal sets of identical twins populating Paterson’s life to more abstract representations such as Paterson’s name and location, and his discussion about rhyming couplets with a young girl he meets at the station (waiting on her twin). The literal twins that are seen also represent the way that Paterson’s mind works, an internalised and somewhat solipsistic world-view, as the twins are only seen after Laura mentions a dream she had about twins one morning. This is something that was not in the original script, Jarmusch wanted to represent: ‘that thing where people say something and then you start seeing it everywhere’.[4]  This is therefore another way that Paterson is a Jarmusch stand-in, the director had the same reaction to bulldogs – he began seeing them everywhere after casting Marvin.[5]

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Paterson mentions that he is a fan of celebrated poets like Frank O’Hara and William Carlos Williams. Not only is Jarmusch a fan of the latter, but Williams hailed from the city of Paterson and carved out a career as a reputable doctor alongside his writing, which he enjoyed as much as Paterson enjoys driving the bus. All the poems featured in the film are by Ron Padgett, who Jarmusch has claimed is one of his favourite contemporary poets. Padgett not only allowed the director to use his poetry but also wrote some verse specific for the film,[6] he has been writing poetry for over four decades and was a vital part of the Second Generation New York School Poets. Jarmusch’s reverence for the work is evident in the way he allows the words to float, almost scrawled, onto the screen, accompanying Paterson’s reflective thoughts.

As a film and character, Paterson is made up entirely of contradictions – acknowledging the ephemerality of art whilst recognising the lineage of its creators, constantly moving whilst stopping to observe the smallest details, and looking to the past whilst remaining resolutely in the present. Paterson’s conversation with a Japanese poet (Masatoshi Nagase, from Jarmusch’s Mystery Train) tells us that although the focus of art might seem small at times, the reception can be far reaching. This is true not only for Paterson’s (and Padgett’s) poetry but also for Jarmusch’s film.

Sean Greenhorn
November 2016

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[1] Jim Jarmusch, interviewed by Rory O’Connor, ‘Jim Jarmusch Talks ‘Paterson,’ His Love for Poetry & Hip-Hop, Tilda Swinton, and Being Grateful’ The Film Stage 23 May 2016 https://thefilmstage.com/features/jim-jarmusch-talks-paterson-his-love-for-poetry-hip-hop-tilda-swinton-and-being-grateful/

[2] Golshifteh Farahani, interviewed by Emanuel Levy ‘Paterson: Interview with Director Jim Jarmusch’ emanuellevy.com 29 October 2016 <http://emanuellevy.com/uncategorized/paterson-interview-with-director-jim-jarmusch/>

[3] Jim Jarmusch, interviewed by Rory O’Connor, ‘Jim Jarmusch Talks ‘Paterson,’ His Love for Poetry & Hip-Hop, Tilda Swinton, and Being Grateful’ The Film Stage 23 May 201

[4] Jim Jarmusch, interviewed by Emanuel Levy ‘Paterson: Interview with Director Jim Jarmusch’ emanuellevy.com 29 October 2016 <http://emanuellevy.com/uncategorized/paterson-interview-with-director-jim-jarmusch/>

[5] Jim Jarmusch, interviewed by Karin Badt ‘A Conversation with Jim Jarmusch at Cannes: “Paterson” as “A Quiet Cinematic Poem’’ Huffington Post 18 May 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karin-badt/a-conversation-with-jim-j_b_10020068.html

[6] Jim Jarmusch, interviewed by Ramin Setoodeh in ‘Jim Jarmusch on Boycotting ‘Star Wars,’ Bringing ‘Paterson’ to Cannes’ Variety 17 May 2016 <http://variety.com/2016/film/news/jim-jarmusch-on-boycotting-star-wars-bringing-paterson-to-cannes-1201776665/>


All Monday to Friday shows before 5pm have capacity capped at 50% (unless otherwise stated). All other screenings have full unlimited seating capacity (unless otherwise stated).

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