Dull Knives Don’t Cut, or Matter
Jim Jarmusch’s attempt at dramatizing the inner life of a silent, strong, creative type poet, only superficially brushes the surface of imagination. This is the dumbing down of “elite cool” in order to attract a hipster audience. Like a Time Out Tour Guide to Beat-Inherited New York School of modernist poetry.
Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver who is also a poet, named after his hometown’s namesake and William Carlos Williams’ famous poem. The conflation is confusing and reduces character to artistic conceit. His working-class sentiment lacks the bombast of Cassavetes’ unsung immigrant heroes and the idiosyncracies of Wes Anderson’s lonely personalities.
Without a center, the story scatters its insights leaving the audience unsure whether it’s a study of a writerly mind, a sappy elegy to the working-class, or fodder for self-identifying urban hipsters. The love story is trite fantasy recalling the manic pixie girl teen comedies of the early 2000’s. Golshifteh Farahani’s Persian features evoke the mystery and worldliness of that distant place but the story never explores that dimension or question their ethnic pairing.
Typical Jarmusch vignettes seem forced or misplaced. The microcosm of his cultural Black netherworld portrayed at Doc’s Bar includes a pseudo-intellectual black actor who carries a toy gun (a non-threatening “safe” version of a black radical), and an alcoholic bartender who imparts wisdom on days past while attending chess tournaments (see 1994’s “Fresh” dir by Boaz Yakin). A newspaper clipping of Iggy Pop on the wall behind Doc’s Bar feels like product placement for his previous documentary film (“Gimme Danger”), as does the use of the two main actors from Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” as bus passengers having a conversation on Italian underground anarchists. A slick copy of Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” figures prominently in Paterson’s study.
Method Man of Wu-Tang-Clan whose cameo as a laundromat rapper looking for form in his vocal delivery, is the only bit of complex multi-faceted poetry in the story (“I’m Paul Lawrence Dunbar / I don’t spar / with the subhuman or the subpar,” he recites.)
It’s clear that Jarmusch’s commercial success, supported by rising youth culture conglomerates (Vice, Apple, etc.) is less concerned with art than market viability. Jarmusch betrays his underground New York roots by conforming to market pressures. Straddling the art, music, and film worlds of recent history, Jarmusch’s cultural catalog of references is merely worth perusing. What was once called auteur theory reflected a viewpoint of its creator’s inner life. Alternatively, this seems to have been conceived to flatter hipsters for their cultural taste. A better topic would have been the source of emotional malaise and psychological duplicity amongst working-class sensitive souls.