Paterson: Of Pug and Poetry

Some movies are like the roaring ocean, waves mounting upon waves rousing up excitement, eliciting continuous, sensational reactions. Some are like a bubbling brook, smaller but still boisterous, teeming with life and sounds. The film Paterson is a quiet stream, water gently flows along, seemingly uneventful, and yet, you can sit there by its side and just watch its quiet swirling.

Paterson has been screened at many film festivals this year. I missed it at TIFF, glad I could catch it when I came home to CIFF. For a film about poetry and a loving couple (not dysfunctional, for a change) with a British bulldog named Marvin, a character in his own right, and helmed by a Palm d’Or winning director, it’s got to be a unique experience.

Director Jim Jarmusch has been garnering accolades at the Cannes Film Festival since 1984, with his early feature Stranger Than Paradise. His most commercially known work probably is Broken Flowers (Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury, 2005) with Bill Murray and Julie Delpy. This year, Paterson has once again brought the director to Cannes as a nominee for the prestigious Palme d’Or. 

Jarmusch ought to be applauded for making a film on poetry, for who in this day of mega explosive, blockbuster productions would think of turning Williams Carlos Williams’ poetic notion into a movie. Yes, WCW himself was a resident of Paterson, New Jersey, and his 5-volume epic poem Paterson must have been the source inspiration for Jarmusch.


The movie Paterson is about an admirer of WCW and an aspiring poet whose occupation may be furthest from the creative process. But that’s exactly the point. Where do we get inspirations and ideas? What kickstarts our creative process? Do we need to climb to the top of the mountain, soak up a magnificent sunrise to unleash our creativity? Apparently not.

We see in the film that the most mundane of everyday objects, like, a box of matches, can spark off a new poem. Jarmusch has his own style of cinematic poetry making: the deadpan, casual expressions of his main character, thus, embedding humour in the serious. Adam Driver (While We Were Young, 2014) is probably the best person to star in this film, not only in name, but in his demeanour. He is Paterson, a bus driver with a daily route of driving bus route no.23 around the small town of Paterson, New Jersey.

We follow Paterson for a week. He gets up at the same time, around 6:20 am, plus or minus 5 minutes, eats his breakfast cereal, carries his lunch box and goes to work. He drives his no. 23 route around town, overhearing passengers’ small talks, brewing in his mind thoughts and ideas, writing down lines in a note book when he has a chance, has his lunch sitting on a bench overlooking the Great Falls of the Passaic River, then back to work. After work he goes home, has dinner with his loving wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks the pug Marvin, ties him outside the bar, goes in and have his beer, chats with bartender Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), meets the regulars Everett (William Jackson Harper) and Marie (Chasten Harmon) and listens to their stories, then walks Marvin back home and sleep.

As viewers we see this seven times over. Reminds me of Groundhog Day (1993). But Jarmusch is clever in sprinkling subtle humour and surprises, quite like life. Paterson is a contented soul, driving a bus may be as fulfilling as writing poetry. Wife Laura is more experimental, and takes charge of her creative expressions more explicitly, like learning the guitar to reach her dream of being a country singer, like interior decorating her home according to her obsession with black and white, or baking cupcakes in her own signature style as a step to opening her own cupcake store. Whatever, the two are a loving, contented couple. Creativity manifests in various ways.


And then there’s Marvin, who may be the best pug in pictures. He has a role to play too in this mundane plot. His story line is, again, life as well.

That’s about all I’ll reveal about the movie without giving out the spoiler, yes, even for this seemingly uneventful film. But as I write, I’m thinking of another matter. This film is probably screened only at very limited cities, at arthouse, independent cinemas. So, why am I writing about a film that not many of you will actually be able to see? What exactly is the relevance of writing something that few may relate to? Or… is the review a piece of writing that readers can respond to despite not experiencing the film itself?

If you have some thoughts on this, I’d appreciate your input. Throw your two pebbles into the Pond and create some ripples so I’d have an idea.

Having poured out this puzzling thought that has been troubling me for some time, I’m reminded of Paterson’s poetry writing in the basement of his home, his notebook filled with his private thoughts and lines, which nobody has ever or will ever read. What’s his purpose then?

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


Other Related Reviews on Ripple Effects:

Silence the Movie Arrives in the Most Unwelcome Time

While We Were Young: Wearing the Hat of Authenticity 

A Quiet Passion (2016) at TIFF16

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

22 thoughts on “Paterson: Of Pug and Poetry”

  1. Well, I probably fall into the group that is less likely to have this film screened in town unless it shows up on campus or at a film festival. Which is a pity, because I would love this movie, I think. Sounds like a pretty refreshing change of pace from a lot of what is out there these days.

    As to writing about things we’ll never see — well, that doesn’t bother me. Makes me a little envious, perhaps! But it also keeps me on my toes to keep looking. And eventually it could well show up somewhere, whether online or cable. You never know. and just knowing the title and a bit about it could be the thing that would make me look more carefully for it. So, I say keep it up!


    1. Jeanie,

      Thanks for the encouraging words. Yes, I’ll keep it up as film’s something I’m passionate about; I do feel the medium has lots of potentials even in our media-saturated world. No, I don’t see it as becoming archaic, going to the movies instead of streaming and just watching using a handheld device. I still feel the power of the image on the big screen in the dark, in that silence and solitude of the theatre, and the meaning it can convey. Hope you can see what I see and then some more. Thanks for being a regular at the Pond. Your presence here means a lot to me. 😉


  2. First, the film is one I would see in a minute. Let’s be honest, here. As one who wrote the bulk of her first poem on the back of used sandpaper, there’s a lot in the hero-poet to love.

    As for your larger question, what came to me immediately is my experience with native flowers. I went for several years knowing that this flower or that was “around,” but never seeing it. Then, one day: there it was. Because I had read about it and seen photos, I recognized it. I think this is Jeanie’s point. Knowing that something wonderful is out there makes it more likely that we’ll notice it when it shows up in our neighborhood.

    And there’s this: the power of creativity for its own sake shouldn’t be lightly dismissed. Every creative urge that’s given expression stands against the destructive forces in the world. Whether the creativity takes the form of a dinner lovingly cooked, a poem constructed, or a pleasing arrangement of flowers, hardly matters. It’s the act of creation that has power. What happens after that — well, we can’t always predict that.


    1. Linda,

      Thanks for your 2 pebbles. Your comment makes me think of something else… the philosophical question: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound?” Similarly, if a poem written in private and no one else knows about it or reads it, is it still a poem, or, a worthwhile endeavour? Surely, the poet is still there to enjoy it. But, what’s the difference between the poem and an ordinary private diary entry? Anyway, I don’t intend to go further than that.

      Actually my “larger” question that I’d like to explore is, “Are reviews a genre of their own?” Does a review as a piece of writing a worthy form of ‘creative non-fiction’? Someone once said to me, I don’t watch movies, but I read reviews. Interesting, isn’t it?


  3. It’s true, we don’t get to see many art house and international films in local theaters. However, your reviews help me to keep my Netflix queue full of great movie choices. And when you mention earlier pictures from the same director I add those, too. By the time I got to your questions I had already added “Paterson.” 🙂

    So I offer you a huge THANK YOU! for taking the time to write these helpful posts!


  4. Lovely review of a film that I’d see in a minute too if it comes our way. I love quiet mundane films. Life is about the ordinary and I’m interested in life. Of course, some people have major dramas and that can be interesting too, but I find people interesting full stop, so a quiet film is fine by me. I loved your opening description of this being a quiet stream.

    As for your question about whether “the review a piece of writing that readers can respond to despite not experiencing the film itself?”, I think reviews can very definitely be, but I tend not to read them. I wouldn’t have read this one except that you made the connection to my recent post about a book of poetry. I am subscribed to your blog and keep an eye on what comes through, but I don’t read posts about books, films or whatever that I haven’t read. Whenever I see a film though that I think you might have seen I come here to check.I don’t real any other film blogs.


    1. WG,

      First off, thanks for subscribing and even though you don’t comment every time, I appreciate that you ‘keep an eye on what comes through”. Just that is a huge support. So it’s good to know there are silent observers at the Pond.

      Yes, I think you’ve answered my ‘larger’ question of, are reviews a genre of their own? I was telling Linda in my reply to her comment above, I heard this guy who said to me, years ago, that he didn’t watch movies, he just liked to read reviews. That I suppose who be the opposite of what you’ve described here about your own personal preference. And I totally agree with you that I often would want to write my own review first before I check out what others have written. But sometimes for facts checking I’d read others first to make sure I’ve got the facts right. Like you, I’d like to form my own opinion about a film or a book before reading others’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, I’ve been subscribed for years!!

        That guy you refer to isn’t unusual I think. All those people who read journals like the London Review of Books read, I think, many reviews of things the’ll never read or see. I suspect those magazines wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people like you guy?

        And yes, I understand that point about fact-checking. I sometimes check other reviews after I’ve drafted mine, particularly if I have a criticism or had a little inspiration and I want to check that I’m not really out in left-field. Not finding others agreeing with me may result in my re-checking my ideas or making sure I support them more in my review!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Re your point “are reviews a genre of their own?”. Yes they are, and deceptively complex too as they need to accommodate at least four classes of review readers with very different needs. The pre-film reader looks for descriptive information; the post-film reader looks for engagement and understanding; the vicarious reader does not or can not see a film but is curious to remain connected; the researcher/industry person is less interested in the film than how audiences are reacting. This may help film writers in crafting their reviews to meet different readerships. We cannot satisfy them all.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I hadn’t thought about checking if the University has screenings of films like this. The good thing about the Royal College of Music is we can have associate membership of the students union events at Imperial College London which is great because they have more societies. I like all your film reviews, I recommend your recommendations to my parents and friends too.


    1. Charlotte,

      This film is in the current Festival circuit so I don’t think it will be screened anywhere else. But, watch for it as it could be released for the larger public. And you know what, I just found out that it was screened at the BFI London Film Festival Oct. 10 and 11. It’s good that you’re in a top-notch world city, London. I’m sure you’ll have lots of chances to see great art movies that may not go to smaller towns. Thanks for stopping by the Pond. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoyed reading your review. For me this is a whimsical essay into the ordinariness of human existence. As I say in my review: It is devoid of regular cinematic artifice and feels like we have momentarily glimpsed into the inner space of a true gentle soul and can walk away the better for it. Glad you liked it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. CineMuseFilms,

      Thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects and throwing in your two pebbles. Totally agree with you about this seemingly mundane and uneventful film. Poetry can be found in the most ordinary of our lives. Thanks for your two pebbles and the ripples they’d made. Hope to hear from you again at the Pond. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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