“Paterson,” A Wonder of a Film


Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Amazon Studios

Rated: R


In the 80’s, Director Jim Jarmusch’s ironical, whimsical, quirky, and funny films such as “Down By Law” and “Mystery Train” felt like revelations of something truly new and Indie filmmaking’s essence. Over time though, releases of a new Jarmusch film weren’t quite the events they once were.

Absence of anticipation will enhance your gratification discovering his new film “Paterson,” which reflects Jarmusch’s refreshing new sincerity, which moves beyond the irony that had characteristically marked his films.

Paterson (Adam Driver) lives in the small city of Paterson in northern New Jersey with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). His job is bus driver, but his vocation is writing poetry. The film’s minimalist structure is one of its charms.

It takes place from one Monday to the next. Each new day begins with the couple in bed; their sleep positions – back to back, face to face, she resting her head on her chest – their routine’s only modifications.

Watch in hand, Paterson awakens at 6:15 am and walks down the city’s narrow, serpentine streets, and assumes his seat in his NJ Transit bus.

Stealing moments before his shift, Paterson works on that day’s poem when his supervisor Donny (Rizwan Manji) greets him and complains hyperbolically about his life that’s falling apart.

At lunch, Paterson takes his lunchbox and sits on a bench and watches the city’s spectacular waterfall. And inspired by Laura’s photograph taped to his lunchbox, Paterson works on his poetry.

He returns home at night, and eats dinner with Laura. After dinner, he walks his English bulldog Marvin, and stops at the neighborhood bar. Paterson drinks one beer, which he doesn’t finish, and returns home.

There, in a sense, is your movie. But “Paterson” is much richer than that. Bus driver and poet, on the surface, may seem like an unlikely juxtaposition, but Paterson’s work enhances his poetry because he goes everywhere, sees everything, and allows himself to smile as he overhears his bus’s passengers.

Two adolescent boys discuss one of the city’s natives Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Memorialized in song and film, he was falsely accused of murder and later exonerated.

One of the boys says, “Denzel looked like him,” conflating film illusion with actuality, revealing the gentle humor, which marks Jarmusch’s films. The film also celebrates other city notables: Lou Costello, Dave of soul music duo Sam and Dave, and anarchist Gaetano Bresci.

Much of the joy you experience watching “Paterson” derives from its celebration of poetry and poets. As you hear Paterson work out that day’s poem in his mind, the words appear on the screen, deepening our appreciation for how a poet brings a poem to life, as if we discover the process for the first time.

Paterson takes an ordinary object – a matchstick – and looks beyond its practical purpose to create an image – the matchstick that lights your lover’s cigarette – that evokes a surprisingly gratifying response.

Laura encourages Paterson to publish his poems, but he doesn’t seem motivated to do that. As Laura nurtures his poetry, Paterson lovingly indulges Laura’s ever changing creative outlets.

One day, she’s convinced her cupcakes are the next big things, and the next she orders an expensive guitar, sure she’s the next great country singer.

All the while her obsession with black and white polka  dots – the walls, drapes, and shirts she wears –  almost overwhelms them. The film celebrates how these well-suited foils nurture each other to be the people they’re called to be.

Also very good in the new film “Silence,” Driver well modulates the subdued Paterson’s movements and expressions, his hangdog face always portraying the right measure of emotion. And the Iranian actress Farahani is vivid, striking and winsome as Laura.

Except for one moment at the bar when Paterson intervenes to stop a lovesick acquaintance Everett (William Jackson Harper) from harming others, there’s little dramatic tension in “Paterson.” More than a drama or a comedy, an observation might be a better way to describe the film.

It observes two people, affirming each other, who re-discover the blank page’s power to write their lives’ poems each day. Amid the glut of more high-profile Oscar contenders, don’t overlook “Paterson,” one of 2016’s best films. You’ll kick yourself if you miss this wonder of a film.



Creative Maladjustment Will Help End Poverty


The site of a proposed shelter for homeless families. Why can’t we eliminate the need for these kinds of shelters?

In my Washington, DC neighborhood – the most affluent in the city – people are upset about a homeless shelter proposed to be built in the neighborhood.

Some of my neighbors’ NIMBY attitudes aren’t unexpected, but our neighborhood hasn’t been singled out. Part of a city wide plan, which attempts to re-structure the way the city houses persons who are homeless, the proposed shelter is one of five designated to support homeless families throughout the city.

Instead of housing 270 families in one central shelter, which, all agree, is dangerous and overcrowded, these new shelters would house 50 families in each shelter, offering them more privacy and dignity.

With fewer families to help, the new shelter system’s proponents believe case managers won’t lose track of families or neglect their needs, and receiving more individualized attention, families will more readily escape homelessness.

Because these shelters promise a better future to these families than our current broken system, in one way, I hope the city overcomes my neighbors’ objections and builds the shelter. But, in another sense, if for the wrong reasons, my neighbors are right: no one should want a homeless shelter built in their community.

Each new one our society builds signals a collective failure of will and imagination to think more ambitiously about eradicating homelessness.

We shouldn’t debate where to put shelters and how many persons to house. We should work instead to eliminate the need for shelters. Because, however, it feels as if there are homeless persons on each corner asking us for spare change we can’t conceive of ending homelessness.

We’ve become too well acquainted with the wide range of reactions we experience when we encounter homeless people. We think nothing of walking past someone sleeping on a subway grate. Or we avert our eyes or walk to the other side of the street. Their begging exasperates us or we’re ashamed of our failure to act.

Unable to sort through these conflicting emotions, and overwhelmed by a problem that feels too enormous, we feel powerless to act, and have become too accepting of the status quo.

We need a revival of what Dr. King called, “creative maladjustment,” which refuses to adjust to the scandalous outrage of more than 560,000 persons nationally living without homes. Our maladjustment, I hope, will disquiet us enough to engender the creative solutions necessary to end homelessness.

Bringing together people irrespective of their ideologies, we should create greater solidarity among poor and non-poor persons that encourages them to work to end homelessness. Fully aware it’ a symptom, we’ll understand poverty is the disease we must overcome.

To convince others to end poverty, we should help them understand current government programs and private charitable efforts haven’t lifted 43 million of our brothers and sisters out of poverty.

Programs such as SNAP and Medicaid generate $2 for each dollar spent, and create jobs, and it’s estimated SNAP kept 4.7 million Americans out of poverty in 2014, and Medicaid kept 2.7 million people out of poverty in 2010. These effective programs shouldn’t be cut.

However, the reality of 43 million persons reliant upon SNAP, and 69 million persons reliant upon Medicaid starkly remind us of the great need that stubbornly persists, despite our best efforts and intentions.

In similar ways, programs that help feed families, and help them meet their rent and keep their utilities connected are admirable, but only help so many. Requiring furthermore people go one place for food and another for clothing and three more to pay their bills diminishes their dignity.

And when you spend most of your time and energy scrambling to gather resources to survive, you can’t think about how to create a better future for your family.

Poor persons are best qualified to articulate they deserve much better. And their non-poor allies should empower them to advocate for solutions for their problems: greater societal investment in a stronger safety net, preparing and training people for jobs that pay living wages, affordable housing, food security, affordable and outstanding education, universal health coverage, and safe and peaceful neighborhoods.

Better advocacy by itself won’t overcome poverty, however. Poor persons won’t escape poverty until they can determine, as all people desire, their own futures. With others’ support and that of a better safety net, poor persons will need to avoid the destructive behavior that traps them in poverty and take advantage of the educational, training, and economic opportunities, which present themselves.

But those who don’t believe poor persons can rise or change haven’t paid attention. They’re among the more creative and resourceful people in our society. If we channeled the effort poor persons make gathering resources into creating good jobs or helping poor people own their own businesses, that could mean homelessness and poverty’s demise.