A gentle, contemplative drama from master filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.
December 22, 2016
Who knew that watching the ebb and flow of an ordinary life could be so illuminating and soothing? Jim Jarmusch, that's who. If ever there was a movie that's destined to become contemplative comfort viewing, it's the new effort from the director of Dead Man, Coffee and Cigarettes and Only Lovers Left Alive. In Paterson, the daily grind of waking, working, talking with friends and loved ones, walking the dog and hanging out in a bar offers plenty of food for thought, particularly for anyone keen to peer beyond the surface of seemingly average, expected occurrences.
In one of the movie's numerous instances of mirroring and symmetry, the film's title refers to many things. It's the name of a bus driver (Adam Driver) in New Jersey, as well as the name of the town where he was born, raised and still lives. It adorns the vehicle he steers from Monday to Friday, and the weighty tome by one of his favourite poets that sits on his desk. Paterson has a way with lyrical turns of phrase, too, which he jots down as he follows his usual schedule. Sometimes he takes inspiration from snippets of chatter he overhears between bus passengers, or interactions with strangers as he walks home from work. Sometimes he reflects upon his modest but happy relationship with his enthusiastic wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who styles their house in black and white patterns, bakes cupcakes and decides to learn the guitar.
Jarmusch's features have always flirted with the poetic, preferred minimalism and intimacy, and frequently found beauty in the commonplace. In that way, Paterson is the latest example of the writer-director doing what he's done best for more than three decades. However it's also an astute, insightful ode to everyday creativity and contentment. Over the course of eight days, Paterson's waking hours appear to repeat the same cycle and yet also reveal crucial slivers of difference. While many movies try to paint their protagonist as an everyman, this one goes a step further. Even when he's noticing twins all around him, trading verse with children or chatting with strangers about great writers, everything feels purposefully warm and familiar.
Indeed, Paterson proves the kind of movie that overflows with recognisable details, and immediately resonates for that very reason, while also gazing deeper into existential matters. It brims with grace, affection and solace, but avoids sugarcoating the reality it depicts. Oozing gentle emotion, the work of Driver, outstanding Iranian actress Farahani, and scene-stealing Cannes Palm Dog-winning canine Nellie is pivotal in perfecting that balance. Often ranging from soulful yet commanding, energetic yet yearning, and cute yet probing in turn, the trio offer an engaging glimpse of the colour and quiet contrasts inherent in an ordinary life.
Add Jarmusch's fondness for evoking the literary art form at the film's centre wherever he can — in the visual harmony evident in every image, in the rhythm of the movie's pacing, and including text on screen — and Paterson couldn't be more meditative or more moving. The film is a revealing character study, a reminder to recognise the small stuff that comprises much of our existence, and an appreciation of the ups and downs of living, all in one.