Paterson Revels in the Poetic Expressions of Everyday Life
My little pumpkin
I like to think about other girls sometimes,
but the truth is
if you ever left me
I’d tear my heart out
and never put it back.
There’ll never be anyone like you.
– Poem from Paterson (2016)
Jim Jarmusch weaves a delicate meditation on the intrinsic rhythm of regular life in his newest feature Paterson. In Paterson, as in everyday life, there are no glasses half full and there are no glasses half empty. There isn’t really a glass. There is the sun rising in the morning, and setting in the evening; and what we all do in between. While what we do day-to-day may be mundane to the untrained eye, Jarmusch is masterfully able to identify the compelling repetition of everyday life; and makes Paterson anything but banal.
Paterson stars the uncommonly skillful Adam Driver as bus driver Paterson, who writes poetry in between stops along his bus route through the streets of Paterson, New Jersey. Or maybe it is actually about poet Paterson of Paterson, New Jersey, who drives a bus in between composing verses about love, contentment, and refrigerated plums. Driver’s Paterson is a man of few words, but rarely absent of emotion. Driver’s acting talent is put to the test as he is asked to imply vast swaths of emotion with a sideways glance while eavesdropping passengers on his bus; or a sweet but sardonic laugh he makes a bit too loud after hearing about his wife’s newest passion project. Adam Driver is well up to the task and then some as he shows his craft he has been honing on Broadway, in HBO’s Girls, and in a wide array of film roles.
Paterson is set during a week in the life of Adam Driver’s Paterson, with each day being marked on-screen as he wakes up in bed next to his wife Laura. On the surface, Paterson is in a ‘Groundhog Day’ scenario, completing the same day over and over again with only mild variations – breakfast, walk to work, chat with coworkers, driving the bus, lunchtime in the park, walk home, evening stroll to the bar with his wife’s English bulldog. But this is no ‘Groundhog Day’ trudge for Paterson, and there is so much more going on in his life. His brain and heart are constantly churning a complex well of feelings, as evident in his poems, highlighted brilliantly by director Jarmusch with voiceovers matched to on-screen text; paced not as recitations, but from a poet authoring the lines for the first time.
Iranian actress/musician Golshifteh Farahani joins Driver as Paterson’s stay-at-home/renaissance woman wife Laura. While Paterson is off completing his daily rhythm, Laura is home with her dog Marvin; dreaming up her next career endeavor she can jump headfirst into. Laura isn’t a flake, wandering from one project to the next; but an earnest spirit still looking to find her artistic outlet, much like her husband does with poetry. Laura lives with her emotions more openly that Paterson; and in doing so, Farahani’s Laura is a perfect match for Driver if you believe that opposites can attract, which writer/director Jarmusch must.
Paterson is filled with Jarmusch’s dry humor and quirkiness, stamping his signature on the film. Paterson is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey – this naming deja vu has no explanation, and is left for the viewer to interpret. As Paterson progresses from Monday to Tuesday, and so on; viewers get a feel for the town of Paterson, New Jersey and the peculiar amount of identical twins that Jarmusch fills it with. These amusing patterns, along with the rhythmic cadence of Paterson’s life is writer/director Jim Jarmusch winking at his audience as if saying, ‘this isn’t just a film about poetry, it is poetry.’
As Paterson drifts towards its’ conclusion, there is no ‘end of the world scenario’ and there is no life-altering character choices, but that isn’t to say that Paterson doesn’t experience monumental happenings. The significant of an event is always in relation to how histrionic the story is. Jarmusch presents a commonplace life that Paterson lives in; so otherwise small happenings can have immense impact on him.
Without spoiling the finale of Paterson, Driver’s Paterson is faced with the same question that was earlier posed when summarizing this film: Is he a bus driver who writes poetry? Or is Paterson a poet who drives a bus? A charming encounter with a Japanese tourist/poet helps Paterson answer those questions. And in doing so, Jarmusch delivers a nuanced reflection on the value of contentment in one’s life.
- Directing: 10/10 – Jim Jarmusch delivers a film only he could
- Screenwriting: 8/10 – Maybe too dense for some viewers, well worth the effort to take the time to ponder
- Acting: 10/10 – Adam Driver has never been more poised or nuanced
9/10, Jim Jarmusch and Adam Driver’s skill is evident as they team up to create a little art-house flick about big time themes. Inspiring and thought-provoking, Paterson will have audiences re-examining themselves searching for hints of poeticism.