Above: Golshifteh Farahani as Laura in Jim Jarmusch's 2016 movie Paterson. Credit: Amazon Studios.

Paterson Critical Context

Jim Jarmusch's Paterson is about a couple, Paterson and Laura. Writer Richard Brody has described the two:

Paterson ... writes poetry; he thinks poetry while walking to and from the depot, he writes in his notebook (his so-called secret notebook) at the wheel of his bus while waiting for his shift to begin; he writes during his lunch hour while sitting on a bench beside his favourite place, the Great Falls of the Passaic River, with his copy of Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems beside his lunchbox; he writes at his cramped desk in his basement, surrounded by building supplies and hardware .... Laura spends her days on style. She paints the walls of the house, the curtains, the cabinets, and the shower curtain with designs in black and white; she dresses in black and white and looks at herself in the mirror as she tries on black-and-white accessories. Her long-term plan involves starting a cupcake business, and she dreams of cupcake-baking making them rich. She also dreams of becoming a country-music star; she’s no musician, but she must have a black-and-white harlequin guitar, which comes with an instructional DVD by its creator, named Esteban, and she spends several hundred dollars on the guitar and its accoutrements despite Paterson’s uncertainty about the expense.

My interpretation of Jim Jarmusch's Paterson is not at all that both characters are sweet-and-uniquely-talented, as many reviewers have proposed--i.e., a charming film about a charming couple. It is not in keeping with Jarmusch's work that the film be a work about the wondrousness of two talented creative people living together. For me, Paterson is Jarmusch's commentary on the new reality all around us (in the Developed West at least), that these days anyone, anyone at all, can and does try their hand at creativity--and very many such persons have no particular talent, or drive, or critical engagement with their chosen art-form. In other words, a lot of people today do carry on some kind of creative-artistic activity, but very often with indifferent or even fairly dire results. But no matter, because their activities don't harm anyone, and in any case, in our Digital Age it has become bad form to be too judgey about another person's weak and trite art.

That is my reading anyway. When Laura buys her guitar the audience knows that she has no hope of becoming a successful country-and-western singer-songwriter. Paterson's observations are always uninspired and hackneyed, no matter how avidly he writes; the lines from actual poems by Ron Padgett are so dull and tedious. The film for me, is a comment on the way in which having an artistic-creative outlet of some kind is almost becoming de rigueur, a requirement--everyone wants to be involved in some kind of creativity as a hobby (behind which is often a dream of stardom). Jarmusch's point with his film, I believe, is that unless your creativity is carried on in some kind of critical context (one which pushes you forward by constantly challenging you to improve) it is being carried on (as Paterson and Laura do) in a way that is random and meaningless.

(28 August 2018)