Paterson is another love story by Jarmusch. No, not a love story like The Notebook, its a story of love about the forgotten places in America, the places that do not first come to mind by citizens or foreigners. Jarmusch loves the places that have rich histories, but are not in the spotlight. His movies are set in places like Detroit or Memphis, he visits the quaint Midwestern towns that people like me call home. These places might not have rich histories like New York, they might not even have enough history to warrant a Wikipedia page. However, Paterson is somewhere in the middle.
Adam Driver plays our bus driver Paterson, who is polite and kind and hard working. He has a wife who wants the best for him and supports him wholeheartedly and vice versa. He has a dog he takes on ritual night walks. He visits a bar for small talk and discussing the history of Paterson with the owner. Outside of these habitual activities, he makes time for his poems in his basement study, before work starts while sitting on the bus, and during his lunch break. He does not seem to care about them too much, it is more of a hobby, a way to attempt to participate in the activities like some of his most beloved poets.
While driving the bus, he overhears two laborers talking about their recent interactions with some ladies. Both the men tell some thrilling stories of possible love, that visibly interests Paterson who looks in his mirror at the men, smiling, trying to see what types of emotions they are expressing and what they look like during their story telling. At the bar, a modern day Romeo and Juliet are experiencing heartbreak. Lovers who have known each other forever are breaking up, or are broken up, depending on if you are asking Romeo or Juliet. The Romeo in our story is heartbroken, he does not understand why, and he sees no other path in life without his Juliet. He even goes so far to pull out a fake gun, but our heroic ex-Marine of a main character stops the situation, saving Juliet from a death-by-foam.
He continually draws inspiration for material from these new events and stories that arise from all of his daily habits. He writes love poems based on his marriage and his house and their possessions, such as their beloved Ohio Blue Tip Matches. He tries to figure out how this simple yet essential household item relates to the love he shares with his wife. His poem “Pumpkin” seems to be inspired both by the laborer’s single life thrills and the woes of Romeo. It starts off like the laborer’s lives and ends like Romeo’s life, possibly embarassed by the fact that he is having both of these thoughts which contrast to how loving and wonderful his marriage is.
My little pumpkin, I like to think about other girls sometimes, but the truth is if you ever left me I’d tear my heart out and never put it back. There’ll never be anyone like you. How embarrassing.
Not only does he draw material inspiration from his town, he meets fellow poets in his habitual activities. While walking the dog, he overhears Method Man rapping while he is waiting for his laundry. Method Man explains that he is just working on something, but it seemed that Paterson was more impressed by his more public way of working on his poems. Method Man even leaves Paterson with some possible direction about how to approach his poems, since he says “Wherever it hits me is where it’s going to be” when Paterson asks him if this is his “labratory”. Maybe our poet needs to take a cue from Paterson and not let his writing be so defined to three times and places of the day, but instead write whenever he feels like he should write.
Paterson does not escape the movie without strife though. After writing “Pumpkin”, his wife returns from a successful farmer’s market cupcake sale. In celebration, they leave for dinner and a movie, but only to come back to disaster. Their dog, possibly angry from being left alone on a Saturday, tore to shreds Paterson’s “secret notebook” of poems. His wife, who has been telling him for a year to make some copies, knows that the worst has come to fruition. She tries everything to recover and make the situation better, but it does not matter. Paterson is seemingly in shock, but also is trying to console himself and his wife that it is not a big deal, “they’re just words”.
Still upset though, Sunday morning he goes out for a walk to his favorite spot, by the waterfall that he eats lunch at. Here he finds a man from Osaka, who came to visit Paterson to see where the famous poet William Carlos Williams lived and wrote his poems. The man asks if he knows about William, which Paterson says yes, “he was a doctor”. To this, the man says “aha!” in a quiet voice, and the reply makes Paterson laugh and ask “aha what?”. The man asks Paterson more questions about poetry, which Paterson is able to discuss because he is just as well read in poetry. The man asks if Paterson is a poet too, to which he says he is just a bus driver.
The man knows that no person who loves poetry this much while not writing poems themselves. To be into poetry is also to write poetry. They exchange farewell remarks as the man leaves to set back on returning to Osaka. Before leaving however, he gives Paterson a blank notebook, a gift.
Sometimes empty page, presents more possibilities.
As the man is walking away, he turns around and says “Excuse me, aha!” again in his quiet voice. Immediately, Paterson looks down, takes a second, and then starts to write his final poem.
There’s an old song my grandfather used to sing that has the question, “Or would you rather be a fish?” In the same song is the same question but with a mule and a pig, but the one I hear sometimes in my head is the fish one. Just that one line. Would you rather be a fish? As if the rest of the song didn’t have to be there.
The beauty of this final interaction is that, like the town Paterson, it seems that the confidence of our main character is low. He did not think much of his poems. However, someone came all the way from Osaka to see what William Carlos Williams saw, to experience the same town. It is not New York, but it is special in its own right A good poet can come from Paterson, New Jersey, a good poet can be a bus driver or a doctor. What you do and where you live will not make you any less worthy of being a poet, a comedian, a musician, or whatever you want to be.