A Week in Paterson

I watched the movie Paterson recently, and I’m not quite sure what I think of it. I liked it, but beyond that I’m uncertain. So this will be as much about me working out my own thoughts through writing as anything else.

The movie was perfectly fine from a technical perspective. Well-shot, competently acted, the sound was unobtrusive as sound ought to be. The story was a quiet drama that looked closely at the titular character’s life and attitudes. So far, so good. It reminded me of Ozu in mood and topic, if not in technique. Maybe more like Wenders, but I’m not as familiar with his work. Where it falls down is in coming to a decided conclusion. Ozu ended his movies with decision: a death, a marriage, a dramatic change in the circumstances of life. Paterson, by contrast, seems to just peter out.

Paterson indeed suffers the loss of all his writing, but this causes no change, no development. He continues to write his poems in a notebook with no hint that he may begin sharing them or take steps to protect or preserve them any better. The hero learns nothing, changes nothing.

Nor do any of the other characters. The complaining co-worker, the publican with the roving eye, the wife, not even the couple in the throes of breaking up learn or change. The only one who might be said to is Everett, but really this is undone by Marie saying that his distress is always relieved by the making of some scene. This then happens exactly as predicted.

I’m no connoisseur of poetry, nor am I well-educated about forms. But, in my ignorance, it seems to me that the modern mood is to desire poetry without strict forms. In the film, the Japanese poet comments that reading poetry in translation is like showering in a raincoat, but more famously another poet once said that writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down. I am sympathetic to both statements. I have tried to prevent my distaste for most of the poetry from coloring my judgement too deeply, but no doubt it has to a degree.

It’s not a bad movie. I liked it quite a bit. The problem is that it feels like it failed to live up to the potential it had; it failed of its promise. So many of us do; perhaps that’s the true message.

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