Directed by: Jim Jarmusch.
Written by: Jim Jarmusch.
Starring: Adam Driver (Paterson), Golshifteh Farahani (Laura), Nellie (Marvin), Rizwan Manji (Donny), Barry Shabaka Henley (Doc), Chasten Harmon (Marie), William Jackson Harper (Everett), Method Man (Method Man), Kara Hayward (Female Student), Jared Gilman (Male Student), Sterling Jerins (Young Poet), Johnnie Mae (Doc's Wife), Masatoshi Nagase (Japanese Poet).
It’s not a coincidence that Jim Jarmusch followed-up his brilliant Only Lovers Left Alive with Paterson. Both films take place in once thriving industrial cities, no fallen on hard times – even if Jarmusch doesn’t really depict them onscreen as that bad. In Only Lovers Left Alive, Detroit becomes a dark, desolate place to be sure – but also a romantic one – the backdrop for a pair of ageless vampires to indulge themselves. Paterson is ostensibly more realistic – no vampires this time, the main character is a bus driver – but he’s still living in his own world – a regimented world, in which he thrives on routine. You could argue he’s in a rut – but he’s seems fairly content to be there.
The main character in Paterson is Paterson – and he’s played in one of the great performances of the year by Adam Driver. The film depicts a week in his life, where every day he gets up at the same time – he doesn’t even need an alarm clock, eats the same breakfast, walks the same route to work, where he drives the same bus route. At the end of the day, he walks home the same way, talks to his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who has made them dinner, and then takes their dog – Marvin – on a walk. He will tie the dog up outside a bar, where he’ll go inside and talk to Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) about, whatever, while he drinks one beer, then he’ll walk home again – ready to do the same thing all over again. On his lunch break – or a few spare minutes here and there – he writes poetry in a small notebook. The poems depict the mundane beauty of everyday life – one inspired by matchsticks for example – that, kind of like Paterson itself, seems to be about nothing when you first hear it, but is about a lot more than that when you think about it (even if it’s hard to put into words).
In other hands, this movie may be about the sad, pathetic life of Paterson – and his need to break free of it and see the world (in fact, in other movies, the entirety of this film would take place in 15 minutes, before the hero went on a journey). But Paterson has already been on his journey – we see, twice, his military portrait (Driver was in the Marines himself), and perhaps he simply needs his routine because of the military. Then again, when violence is actually threatened to break out – and Driver reacts – he seems different when the threat is neutralized – somewhat disturbed. Whatever he saw in his time in the military, he doesn’t say – it’s never once mentioned – but I think it informs the rest of the movie.
Jarmusch has made films before about fairly quiet central characters meeting a series of eccentric characters along the way – and for a while, Paterson appears like that. Paterson likes eavesdropping on the bus – two construction workers talking about their amorous conquests (or would have been conquests, if they weren’t so tired) – or two high school kids (a delightful callback to a Wes Anderson film) discussing anarchy. Paterson’s wife, Laura, is certainly eccentric herself – bouncing from one project to the next – which Paterson indulges and encourages – and never ceasing to experiment in the kitchen. There’s Doc and his chess tournaments and martial problems, the young couple (Chasten Harmon and William Jackson Harper) going through a breakup or Method Man rapping at a laundromat, Paterson’s constantly complaining boss or the Japanese poet from the final scene. Many of these characters say a lot more in their meetings than Paterson does – yet I think the film stays focused on Paterson throughout. He isn’t a blank slate really – but he is a man who lives inside his own head. He finds comfort there – and in his routine.
That is ultimately what I think Paterson is about – a man who finds solace in his own head – and in his own art, which he does for himself, and himself alone. He’s made no attempt to publish his poems – he doesn’t even have any copies of them. We know, early, that something will eventually happen – and when it does, Paterson doesn’t react in anger (the closet he gets is calmly telling his dog that he doesn’t like him). He needs his sense of calm – that he discovers in his poetry – and the poetry of others – and if it doesn’t go any further, so be it. Art being done for its own reward – whether or not you choose to share it – still has value.