Paterson is a stream of consciousness with no discernible narrative but an unmistakable flow—it depicts a few days in the deceptively mundane life of the titular character (played timidly and earnestly by Adam Driver) in the titular town of Paterson, New Jersey. One of the few things we find ourselves indifferent to every day are the microscopic moments that make every second something special. Paterson, a bus driver, spends every day doing the same thing—waking up, eating breakfast, going to work etc. We follow him in seemingly routine fashion to the point where we can anticipate every step in his odyssey.
What makes Paterson so fascinating is just how nimble and simple it feels, but of course with Jim Jarmusch and his work are anything but. Paterson, a non-published poet, is observant and contemplative. To him every moment carries the potential to be a work of art. Adam Driver seems perfect for the role, he never indulges into the character emotionally (the film never asks him to) but his studious eyes and impassive fascination with his surroundings make him a tenacious, entry level collaborator for the peculiar auteur.
People seem to come in and out of Paterson’s every day existence like recurring characters in a television sitcom—including a folksy world-wise bartender, a lovesick actor and an overtaxed coworker. They’re colorful characters whose lives are afforded only the time it takes for Paterson to listen to their woes and go on with his own life. Although these encounters can be quirky and downright hilarious, they can also boasts truism that prove brutally candid and sincere. The only two lifeforms in the movie that seem concretely hitched to Paterson are his beautiful and effulgent wife Laura (an unswerving Golshifteh Farahani) and his mischievous bulldog Marvin (a sublimely amusing Nellie, winner of this year’s Palm Dog Award).
Paterson plays with the idea that life is fraught with patterns, patterns that overtake people’s lives. Sometimes they’re expressed through gimmicky visual motifs: black polka dots begin to smother every wall and furnishing in his home, as the film goes progresses seem to indicate our own burgeoning awareness of Paterson’s pronounced beats. Jarmusch’s hypothesis seems obvious: Lives are overtaken by life’s patterns (alarm clocks to wake us up, work schedules to keep us busy, etc.), the things we create to help familiarize and communicate with in a world constantly changing around us.
Jarmusch doesn’t make films that mirror reality but ones that evoke hidden realities that shape our waking consciousness. In one unforgettable image, a turning clock dissolves into a Paterson’s steering wheel (imagined in an impeccably edited match cut). Time and motion are being steered into the direction of our choosing.
To Jim Jarmusch life is a poem. We seem to move in familiar beats, with days and hours playing out like stanzas, fixed to a specific length and moving at familiar speeds. But poems aren’t just about structures and tempos but the details that make each stanza of every poem significant to begin with. Our life-appointed routines feel eerily similar, we may move in rhythmic patterns but, like poems, we derive substance from the specificity and meaning, subtext and context.
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a musing and life-affirming tract that both affirms and subverts the idea of mundanity in everyday life. Most films look at the mundanity of these lives sadly and regretfully, approaching the subject matter with a tuneful ennui or moodiness. Jarmusch, however, looks at it the way the character Paterson would: singular and unique in every microscopic detail.
This is a reprint from the Vancouver International Film Festival. To read more coverage of the festival, click here.