Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, William Jackson Harper, Rizwan Manji, Chasten Harmon, Masatoshi Nagase
MPAA Rating: (for some language)
Running Time: 1:58
Release Date: 12/28/16 (limited); 1/20/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 19, 2017
Paterson is a lovely film about a man of simple wants and needs, following him over the course of a week as he goes through the routines of daily life. The film is not one of conflict or much drama. It's about the rhythm of this man's life.
He awakens each morning next to his girlfriend. He walks to work. He drives a bus for a living. He eats lunch (out of a metal lunchbox, with a picture of his girlfriend lovingly taped to the top of the inside of the lid) at his favorite spot—a bench at a park that has a great view of the local waterfall. He drives his route some more and then walks the same walk back home, where his girlfriend has some new and exotic dish just about ready for dinner. He takes their dog—a scene-stealing pug that purrs and yips—for a walk. He stops for a beer at a local tavern (where the owner doesn't have—and will never have—any televisions in the joint, because the public house is a place to be with and talk to other people), and then he comes home to go to sleep, before starting the whole cycle over again.
In his downtime, Paterson (Adam Driver) writes poems in a little notebook. His favorite poet is William Carlos Williams, who wrote an epic piece about Paterson's hometown of Paterson, New Jersey (Yes, everyone knows him as the guy who's named after the city or, if someone's just meeting him, questions if he's named after it), which doubled as a sort of journalistic exercise about the place. Paterson's own poems are, appropriately enough, about mundane things, such as the brand of matches that he and his girlfriend keep in a bowl on the kitchen counter.
It's a love poem, though, and not because he suggests that such a match would be perfect to light the cigarette of a new or special woman. It's because this is the sort of thing that he and his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), an aspiring artist whose areas of concentration shift with the wind, do. They keep boxes of matches in a bowl on the kitchen counter. They have tried other brands, he writes, but they both have decided that this is possibly the best match they have found. If finding someone with whom to share an admiration of matches isn't love, then it's likely that the concept of love doesn't exist.
That's the thinking, one gathers, and it's rather beautiful in the purity of its simplicity. This is the course of Paterson's life, and it's the course of writer/director Jim Jarmusch's film—no frills, no overt drama, no significant challenges to tackle or difficult obstacles to overcome. It's simply pleasant and pleasantly simple.
The film, like its main character, is constantly observing, and it possesses a generous spirit in those observations. Paterson—the man, of course—may be the film's central figure, but he is also something of enigma beyond his poetry (He, like Driver himself, served in the military, although that detail is important in a single scene). What we get from him is a man who thrives on taking it all in—the people he encounters, the places he frequents, his girlfriend above all else.
Jarmusch's approach mirrors that quality. The course of Paterson's normal day pauses for moments of looking and, more importantly, listening. In his role as a bus driver, Paterson is regularly privy to the conversations of his passengers. These are those strange talks, which people have in full awareness that they can be heard but, believing that nobody cares about what someone on a bus is saying, still contain the honesty of a private discussion.
Two men brag about their sexual exploits, which always seem to come up short in the actual consummation department. Jarmusch's camera—Paterson's focus—keeps noting how the each man's hand and foot are just barely avoiding the other's, which might explain the bragging and the unwillingness to go through the abundant sex they say they could be having. A couple of students discuss the history of anarchism in the city, wondering if there are any anarchists left here—besides, as the little punch line goes, them, of course. By the way, people come in pairs throughout the film—especially twins, whom Paterson seems to keep seeing over and over again. Laura did tell him about a nice dream she had in which they were parents to twins.
Everything and everyone here has a positive side. Jarmusch's screenplay will set up a potentially dangerous situation—such as the confrontation at the bar or a carful of gang members asking Paterson about his apparently profitable dog—and then will undercut that potential threat—a fake gun and guys who are concerned about Paterson's safety. Paterson finds solace in kindred souls, whether it be the writers whose books adorn the shelves of his cramped office in the basement, a man practicing a rap in a laundromat, a girl who writes poems of her own, or a tourist who has come from Japan to see the place that inspired Williams.
Things start to go awry in increasingly frustrating ways for Paterson, and the ultimate question is whether or not his way of life is really worth much. It's tempting to look for some deeper meaning in Paterson, but such an endeavor would be folly. The deeper meaning is what we see—what Paterson sees and experiences every day. Is it enough? It is if we make it so.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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