Written & Directed by Jim Jarmusch
In a culture which embraces spectacle, the great big superhero movies set in an expansive universe, sequels and prequels and huge $100+ million budgets, reboots and remakes with more explosions than conversations between characters, sometimes it refreshes the soul to see a movie like Paterson from indie director Jim Jarmusch. That’s not to say I don’t love the Marvel movies, or the Star Wars movies. I do. But on the other end of that is the type of quiet, reflective film like Paterson that is almost understated to a fault, and I absolutely adore that about this film, Jim Jarmusch, and the film’s star, Adam Driver (who also plays Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars trilogy by the way). This diversity in range for Driver and just in general for my love of movies is what keeps me coming back to explore and experience new things at the cinema.
Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. An amateur poet, Paterson spends his lunch hour and other quiet moments reflecting on the little things in his life, like the Ohio Blue Tip matches he has at home, where his eccentric partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) spends her time saturating their modest home in everything black and white (black and white shower curtains, black and white cupcakes, black and white cabinets, etc.) The highlight of Paterson’s day may just be when he takes their lovable bulldog Marvin for his nightly walk, allowing him to drop into the local bar for a drink where he shoots the breeze with the bartender (Barry Shabaka Henley) and is witness to the aching love of a friend.
Paterson comes and goes rather uneventfully. There is no conflict, there is no plot device that truly drives things forward. The most exciting thing that happens is when the dog does something that dogs tend to do (trying not to spoil, well, nothing). And yet, despite very little happening or really going on, Paterson is one of the more enjoyable films of the year. It’s not easy to put my finger on it, but perhaps I just enjoyed spending time with the simplicity of Paterson’s life. He carried no cell phone, he watches no television. He writes poetry, as he observes his ho-hum life in a ho-hum town with a ho-hum job. There is beauty in the everyday things, I truly believe that, and Paterson is the film which celebrates that. Adam Driver’s performance in the title role really helps to make this film enjoyable, make Paterson himself enjoyable, even as he seems so standard, so boring almost.
There is just enough substantive reflection involved in the film, just enough structure to allow Jarmusch the ability to explore some very existential themes and ideas. The film follows Paterson in a week in his life, with each day pointed out on screen. Each day starts the same, as Paterson awakes next to Laura, gets dressed, eats his cereal, walks to work, writes poetry, walks the dog, etc. We get the same structure nearly every day. It’s mundane. So any variance on this structure becomes exciting, it becomes the meat of the movie so to speak. When we see Paterson working on a new poem, or continuing one he started the previous day, there is a certain amount of joy, of encouragement.
The poetry is okay, as far as poetry goes. I’m no expert. But the quality of the poetry is secondary to what Jim Jarmusch is trying to accomplish here. He is not interested in the finished product as he is with the process, which is what I love the most about this film. One of my favorite mantra’s, corny as it may be, is that the journey is the destination. Paterson, much like its title character, is not interested in anything more than a few quiet moments in the day to reflect upon everything that is right with the world, everything that is right with this life. It’s an escape, in many ways, back to the mundane charm of a rather drab every day existence. It’s an escape from the escapist films we’ve become so accustomed to, while also avoiding the sad reflections of neo-realism. Paterson is a little bit of happy nothing.