Honestly I tried to take notes during this film, but this film reminds me of A Ghost Story in the sense that you miss a lot of important details if you take notes during the film. When I just put my pencil down and quit taking notes on every detail like I do for a lot of movies, I was able to appreciate the silences and the dialogues so much more, and just as I did at the end of A Ghost Story I found myself in a river of tears, wiping away snot from my face and sniffling these melodramatic sobs. If you haven’t seen A Ghost Story, it’s a film about how a young woman (Rooney Mara) must grapple with the death of her husband (Casey Affleck) after he passes away in a car accident, and how her husband, as a ghost, grapples with how his death has impacted his wife. The film doesn’t have a ton of actiony stimuli so for me I really liked this film since I don’t like films with tons of blood or frenetic action (unless it’s a chosen few Marvel and DC films. Or Get Out). It did require me to sit and reflect rather than write too much during the film about the plot because the film’s power relies in its silences and these silences force us to grapple with our own memories of loved ones we might have lost.
To be honest, I’ve been wanting to see this film for a really long time, ever since it came out. But I didn’t know if I’d like it. Then I saw Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 96 percent rating, and then I knew I would be missing out if I hadn’t seen it. Although if you’ve seen Adam Driver’s other films (The Rise of Skywalker, While We’re Young, Frances Ha, What If, BlacKkKlansman, The Last Jedi) this is a very different role than I was used to seeing him in. His roles usually involve lots of dialogue; this role he didn’t say much, and spoke mostly through his facial expressions and eyes.
Although there is not a ton of dialogue in Paterson, that’s what makes it so powerful. Paterson, the main character (also the name of the city in which he resides) is a very introspective quiet person, and listens in on the conversations that people have on the bus he drives every day. He is also a good listener when other people are talking to him; his coworker, Donny, who always makes sure he is ready to get the bus going, opens up to him about his problems at home and Paterson, without making any kind of judgment beforehand, listens with the utmost attention to Donny. He also listens when his wife talks to him. He reminded me a lot of Richard Loving in the film Loving. Of course, the storyline for that film is different and took place during a different time, but Paterson and Richard are both introverted men who, even though they do kind things for people, wish to not be in the spotlight. Honestly, I found myself relating to Paterson a lot in that sense; I’m an introvert and tend to like listening and writing rather than talking a lot. Paterson is also polite; he always thanks his wife for dinner and for treating him to the movies. People have told me I say “Thank you” a lot (I even got pulled into a counselor’s office for being too polite to other people. I guess she thought I would become a pushover or something, which I did become, but have since learned to balance with assertiveness), so when Paterson thanked his wife for dinner in one scene and treated him to the movies to celebrate making money from her bake sale, I couldn’t help but feel like I found a kindred soul in Paterson.
I also found myself relating to Paterson because he loves writing. Although I do not write poetry as frequently as he does, I love writing in general and also have finished some poems for a poem book I plan to publish at some point. In the film Laura, Paterson’s wife, reminds him that he needs to make copies of his poems and publish them someday, but he never gets around to it. When his dog rips up his notebook when they are out and about, Paterson dismisses it, saying that they were just a bunch of words that didn’t mean much. However, his wife disagrees, and tells him she wishes he kept some of the poems. I’m the same way. After I read my poems for my poetry book I couldn’t help but cringe because I’m a tough critic on myself, and I even felt I couldn’t write poetry. But I don’t think many poets or writers or really any artist in general has ever felt that their work is the best from the get-go. In real life, Adam Driver has said that he is uncomfortable watching himself on screen and walked out on an interview with Terry Gross because they played a clip of him singing in his recent film Marriage Story. Maybe I would have walked out on an interview if people played a clip of me performing my music, maybe I wouldn’t have, but at any rate I could kind of relate to Adam and Paterson’s feelings towards their own work. People say it’s helpful as a musician to go back and listen to yourself play, and sometimes I have done that, but when I hear myself play I always sound either really out of tune or choppy or look bored, angry, constipated or a mixture of all three while I play, even though I’m trying to show my passion for the music. Maybe if I stop listening to my insecure ego so much I can listen to recordings of myself with less judgment, but then again even the most successful people who are awesome at what they do don’t enjoy looking at their work when they are finished, mostly because the process of making the finished product is draining and when you’re finished with the product you don’t even want to deal with it anymore. Some actors have said on the contrary, they enjoy the process of making the product; they just don’t watch it when finished. Maybe it’s just part of being an artist; few if any artists are totally satisfied with what they do. Then again, you don’t see me going back and reading these blog posts because frankly, they are long and boring to read, even to myself who wrote the darn pieces. Same with my music; I rarely go back and listen to recordings of myself because I know I can always be improving on my performance, and it just doesn’t sound like me when I go back and listen to it, more like my doppelganger or an impersonator of me. It probably comes from years of having cello instructors and orchestra teachers who pushed me to never settle and to always be improving; that in and of itself is a huge ego-buster, and I’m pretty grateful for that.
Also, I love this movie because it reminded me of a book I read called Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind: Conversations on the Path of Nonviolence by Stuart Rees, professor emeritus at the University of Sydney and former director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, and Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and humanist philosopher. In their dialogue, Mr. Ikeda and Dr. Rees discuss the importance of culture and education in creating a more peaceful society, and in particular, the power of poetry as a means to do so. Dr. Rees says to Mr. Ikeda that he constantly uses poetry in his lectures and talks about social justice issues because poetry isn’t just for students taking Western literature classes. Whether you’re a biochemistry major, a religion studies major, or undecided about your major, all students should be given exposure to poetry. Dr. Rees also uses poetry in his lectures because in many parts of the world, poets write about conflicts and use their work to spark a dialogue about how to resolve these conflicts and foster peaceful communities. According to author and Civil Rights activist Vincent Harding, with whom Mr. Ikeda has spoken in a book called America Will Be!:
the arts should be at the heart of an education that helps us to become more human. Poetry, especially, gives us some creative ways to think about the story of our lives. This is because poets are constantly trying to reach into the depths of our reality…Poetry can remind us that we have the capacity to create–the capacity of telling and understanding our stories.Quoted from page 125 of Peace, Justice, and the Poetic Mind. Original source: Harding and Ikeda, America Will Be!, p. 209
In the film, Paterson’s poems seem simple and unremarkable, but looking at it from a Buddhist perspective, his poetry served as a way to communicate his life story, his lived experience. Even if the sights he observed and the people he listened to seemed like everyday things, there is this precious beauty in the way that Paterson takes the ordinary and finds some way to create value from these everyday things. He also makes it a habit of writing every day, and that reminds me of President Ikeda, who wrote his serialized novel The New Human Revolution every day even if he was tired, so that he could leave a record of his travels around the world and his dialogues with world leaders and his mentor, Josei Toda. He has also published The Sun of Youth, a series of poems he wrote calling for young people to stand up against injustice and awaken to the inherent potential, or Buddhahood, in their own lives as well as help others to awaken to their inner Buddhahood, too. The poems are all incredibly beautiful, and they all champion everyday people like you and me. And people like Paterson who live ordinary lives as human beings. There is one poignant scene toward the end when Paterson is sitting on the bench with a man he just met who traveled to Paterson and is flying back to Japan the next day. They have a short but deep dialogue about their shared love for William Carlos Williams and Frank O’Hara, both American poets. Even though Paterson tells the man he is not a poet, the man gives him a blank poetry notebook, implying that because of their shared connection through poetry, that Paterson has another chance to write poetry after his dog ripped up his old poetry notebook. It was this dialogue where Paterson and the gentleman saw each others’ Buddha nature, or humanity, and this interaction was a sign from the universe that Paterson needs to, hopefully, listen to his wife, write those poems and then publish them so that people can be moved by his poetry.
I remember studying poetry in high school and college English classes (and a course in Afro-American Studies) but there was a lot of analysis and dissection of the poems required for classwork and homework that I lost my love of poetry for a while. This movie reminded me that one can appreciate poetry even in a non-classroom setting. Paterson works a full-time job, but he still makes time to write. I think the key to his creating this habit is that he lives in the moment when he writes and isn’t so caught up in the perfection of the poem or how it might sound to other people. There’s this idea that one has to quit their day job in order to follow their passion so they can make “the best art”, but this film served as a beautiful and down-to-earth reminder that you don’t have to, and really shouldn’t, quit your day job in order to make art. I think a lot of films and media tend to perpetuate this idea, like the film La La Land. Mia thinks she needs to quit her day job in order to make more time for her acting career, but in reality she works hard at staging a play and no one attends it, so she has to move back home because she’s broke and cannot pay her bills without a job. I, too, once thought I needed to quit my various day jobs in order to be a full-time musician, but turns out a lot of artists, such as Paterson, have some sort of day job because, like, #people out here gotta pay bills and eat. Paterson’s poems are actually quite beautiful because they are inspired by his everyday experiences: him waking up next to his wife, him riding through the city every day, him sitting outside in nature. He just takes the everyday and runs with it in his writing. Also, he reads other writers, so that helps with his creative process.
I think because he has this appreciation for the every day and the written word he is able to appreciate the small moments, such as when he encounters a man rapping a spoken word while waiting for his clothes to finish washing and drying at the laundromat. When Paterson asks him if the laundromat is his laboratory for his poetry creation, the man tells him wherever inspiration strikes is where he is going to create the lyrics. This spoke to me because as I said earlier, the only time I was really encouraged to study poetry was in the classroom, but too often we don’t think of song lyrics as constituting poetry, but after watching this movie, I appreciate rap as a form of poetry now. In an old article I read about the evolution of rap (I think it was National Geographic’s 2005 issue on Africa) and it has its roots in Western African traditions. Griots in West African tradition play a variety of roles: storyteller, poet, historian musician, and they communicate narratives through their voices, and so this tradition has continued today in rap music.
Before watching the film I barely knew anything about Paterson other than when I read a Wikipedia article on it that was linked to the Wikipedia page on the film Paterson. The film helped me appreciate the city more, and while of course it wasn’t overtly a documentary about the city, Paterson drives past and discusses many sites with the people he encounters. He and Doc, the owner of the bar Paterson frequents, talk about famous people who lived in Paterson, such as the comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and rapper Fetty Wap. It says a lot that Paterson is able to take in his surroundings, and part of the reason I think he is able to do this is because he doesn’t have a phone in which he can bury his eyes and not make eye contact with anyone or anything. After Doc’s wife comes into the bar and yells at Doc for using the money she needed to get her hair done for his niece’s wedding, Doc pulls out his smartphone and starts looking at it. When Paterson asks if Doc is okay, Doc asks him point-blank why he doesn’t still have a cell phone. Paterson tells him he lives just fine without one, and when Doc asks if his wife also doesn’t have a cell phone, Paterson says that on the contrary, she has a phone, a tablet and other gadgets but she’s fine with him not using a cell phone. What I like about this film is that it weighs both the pros and the cons of Paterson choosing not to have a cell phone. The con is that when his bus breaks down towards the middle of the film, he doesn’t have a cell phone to call the transit authorities right away to get a new bus (but one of the passengers, a young girl, lets him use her phone to call the transit authorities after he says he doesn’t have a phone). Doc and Laura (Paterson’s wife) tell him that the bus could have exploded and why he should have gotten a cell phone so he could communicate that the bus broke down without making anyone wait on him. Also, if he had his own cell phone he could have called or texted Laura to tell her about the bus breaking down and that he would probably be coming home late.
However, the pro is that Paterson is one of the few people who doesn’t sit and look down at his phone during a conversation, which many people do nowadays because the people who designed our phones meant for them to be a distraction in our daily lives. Like Paterson, I didn’t have a cell phone for a long time, and by the time I got my flip phone everyone else was using smartphones. In middle school I didn’t have a cell phone so I always called using the landline school phone that sat on my English teacher’s desk. Even when I used my flip phone it didn’t have the tools or apps that my smartphone has: now I can sit for hours on that thing and not look up at anyone or anything, which is why I try not to look at it all the time even during this time when we can’t go outside and technology is the only thing we can use to stay connected with one another. It’s why I got a little sappy and teary-eyed during the film because while I appreciate the use of technology during this time, I miss being able to have physical face-to-face conversations with others just as Paterson did in the movie. I did notice one moment where Paterson gave the guy at the laundromat an elbow bump to say his farewells; that was telling because the CDC encouraged us to give each other elbow bumps instead of hugging or shaking hands with people.
But bottom line is, it might be hard for Paterson to live without a cell phone nowadays because technology is the only way we can communicate to our friends without going outside, or even if we are going outside, it’s hard to communicate nowadays without a smartphone because there’s so much rapid information and it’s hard to keep up with it if one doesn’t have a phone, especially since now tech companies are doing coronavirus tracing through cell phones to track the virus. But even that has its downsides, namely because these companies are collecting all your information even though it may help slow the spread of coronavirus, and if you don’t want your personal info collected, then you’re toast. Also, there are still places in the U.S. with limited access to Internet and I don’t want to assume that everyone has a texting plan or even has a smartphone. Yes, most people do, but I am sure out of all the people on the planet, there are still folks without a cell phone or internet. Then again, the little girl wouldn’t have been able to give Paterson her cell phone to use because if she did, they wouldn’t be observing social distancing rules. In that case, he’d probably be in trouble and the new bus wouldn’t have come in time.
This film also really made me think about why it’s so important to express appreciation for bus drivers, delivery staff, hotel staff and other people who work in blue-collar jobs. There are still a lot of people who cannot afford to work from home because their jobs do not allow them to do that, and for those of us who get to stay at home, knowing this is all the more important. Recently Jason Hargrove, a bus driver in Detroit, died from complications of Covid-19, but before his death he released a video on Facebook talking about how dangerous it is for transit employees like him to be driving people during this time because people on the buses cough and sneeze without covering their mouths and thus expose the drivers to the coronavirus. He’s not alone: many bus drivers have contracted Covid-19, and the numbers only keep growing as people on buses and other modes of transportation refuse to take social distancing rules seriously and assume their cough or sneeze won’t get drivers sick. I know Paterson probably didn’t want thanks for what he did because he seemed to like his job, but I’m sure a lot of folks today would express appreciation for transit employees like him because their job is so risky now with the spread of COVID-19.
Overall, I really loved this film. Like I said, it brought tears to my eyes by the end (also because the music was incredibly sweet) and still has me thinking about the importance of poetry and appreciation of the everyday.
Paterson. 2016. Rated R for some language.