An Epic American Poem Inspired the Latest Film From Northeast Ohio Native Jim Jarmusch


Northeast Ohio native Jim Jarmusch, an indie writer-director with a long and storied filmmaking career, has said he came up with the idea for the script for his new movie Paterson, which opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, more than 20 years ago.

He conceived of the movie on a trip to New Jersey city that provides the setting for both his film and for the famous William Carlos Williams poem of the same name.

In the poem, the man and city become one. Jarmusch directly references that element of the poem by naming the movie’s central character Paterson.

Much like Williams’ poem, Jarmusch’s movie relies on imagery rather that the typical plot structure of fiction/drama. His point: even the mundane can have meaning.

An analog man living in a digital world, Paterson (Adam Driver), the central character in the film, gets by without a smart phone. He doesn’t even own an alarm clock. His life consists of a series of routines (he drives the same route every day and walks his dog Marvin to the same bar each night). He fills a spiral notebook with poems he writes based on his interactions with the world, illustrating the Williams poem’s line “no ideas but in things.” In one scene, a rapper practicing in a laundromat even uses that line as he spits out some verses.

As far as plot development goes, there’s little to tell. Paterson and his significant other Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) clearly love each other. She praises his poetry, and he encourages her to continue painting their house and cooking cupcakes. No real conflict there.

One night when Everett (William Jackson Harper) threatens other patrons at the bar that Paterson frequents, Paterson quickly defuses the situation. And that’s pretty much it for plot development.

Oh, and Marvin causes a bit of trouble too, forcing Paterson to start on a new set of poems at the film’s end. But there’s ultimately minimal conflict in this somber film.

Fans of conventional cinema will find Paterson too dull to be interesting. But fans of unconventional cinema (and Jarmusch devotees) will see the beauty in his unassuming film.

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