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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 a 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’s fascinating about Paterson is how nimble and simple it feels when it’s 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 legendary auteur, Jim Jarmusch.
People seem to come in and out of Paterson’s little journey like recurring characters in a sitcom—some of them include 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 be candid and brutally sincere. The only two lifeforms in the movie that seem concretely hitched to Paterson are his beautiful wife, Laura (an unswervingly enthusiastic Golshifteh Farahani), and his mischievous bulldog named Marvin (played by 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: the black polka dots that begin to smother every wall, curtain, furniture and surface of his home as the film goes along is a glaringly obvious one. But as gimmicky as Jarmusch is, nobody can’t deny the simple, honest truth behind what he’s trying to say. Our lives are overtaken by the patterns, but Jim Jarmusch doesn’t just settle with that. He also understands how these patterns are not just routines that people have to live with every day, rather they’re mechanisms that people create to help them familiarize and communicate with a world that’s constantly changing. Even more clever is how Paterson understand life’s spontaneous moments. We’ve become so fixed on specific patterns that when something unexpected happens to disrupt them, the more noticeable these patterns become.
Jarmusch doesn’t make films that mirror reality, instead he makes films that evoke hidden realities that shape our waking consciousness. In one unforgettable image, a turning clock dissolves into a Paterson’s steering wheel (in an impeccably edited match cut). Time and motion are only as real as the people steering it. To Jim Jarmusch the life of the average man is like a rhythmic poem. We seem to move in familiar beats, with days and hours playing out like stanzas fixed to a specific length and motion. But the poems aren’t just about the rhythmic structure, they’re about the details that make each stanza significant to begin with. Our routines are exactly the same, we may move in rhythmic patterns but, like poems,we derive substance from the specificities of our every day lives.
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a musing and life-affirming tract that both affirms and subverts the idea of mundanity in everyday life. Most people look at the mundanity of these lives sadly and regretfully, most directors look at it with a tuneful ennui or moodiness. Jarmusch, however, looks at it the way the character Paterson would: singular and unique in every microscopic detail.