Paterson is an odd Jarmuschian stream of consciousness with an unmistakable feel for the ordinary. A few days in the life of bus driver Paterson (played timidly and earnestly by Adam Driver), in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, seems only to inhabit no more than a microscopic footnote inside the cosmos’ endless boredom, but it’s Paterson’s playful and formal insight which prove vast in Jarmusch’s ever-so-meticulous observation of life-as-a-revolving-door. Jarmusch overturns worldly indifference to properly acknowledge life’s grand insignificance, as well as the mind’s immeasurable capacity (and creativity) to upend the immense ennui of the universe.
Paterson’s day-to-day operates in a clockwork dream state. The film begins on a Monday (a true start for any nine-to-fiver) at the homestead where Paterson, his effulgent wife Laura (an unswerving Golshifteh Farahani), and their mischievous bulldog, Marvin, live in agreeable content. The unassuming texture of Paterson almost disguises Jarmusch’s latent melancholy. But the mood is wholly embodied in Adam Driver’s Paterson, a remarkable creation of studious and reflective meditation. The crestfallen infrastructures of Paterson, New Jersey seem to personify Jim Jarmusch’s earthly fatigue, but the omnipresent oddness of his terrestrial fantasia is functional and animate, infixing makeup and substance to an otherwise prosaic template of tedium and predictability.
Paterson’s day-to-day, as we come to realize, is a ritual of self-discovery. A circadian odyssey consisting of scenic junkets to work, bus routes and brief strolls at dusk. Those familiar with Jarmusch’s Mystery Train (1989) will see a loose resemblance. But the lateral treks in Mystery Train’s Graceland are even more resplendent than Paterson, imparting more scenic avenues and nostalgic vistas to the birthplace (and burial site) of rock ‘n’ roll. But Paterson imparts its own rewards. The quiet Paterson, a bustling poet, finds inspiration in every corner. Coworkers, wayfarers, bar patrons and bus passengers become distinguished storytellers and laureates in Jarmusch’s ceaselessly unique, and eco-rich, environ of lowlifes, losers, louses and outcasts.
Paterson’s awareness of the ordinary, only by way of recognizing the extraordinary, seems to be Jarmusch’s long abiding modus operandi. Sitting by the Great Falls of the Passaic River (Paterson’s favourite site) the bus driver gazes and ponders on the seemingly endless beauty of the cascading water. There he contemplates, in a brief interval between the deafening monotony of work, poetry and art, his only inspiration being the loveliness of simple natural graces.
Life as an interpretable work of art is the tune of Jarmusch’s Paterson, framing and envisioning Paterson’s rituals with rhythmic precision and schemes, the film unsurprisingly resembles an inflated poem. Jarmusch’s resources, however, prove boundless and plentiful, beyond the confines of structure.
Surreal, dreamlike individuals appear and disappear like ghostly apparitions in Paterson, but Jarmusch affords them a certain level of autonomy, they’re contemplative and opinionated, never reduced to function or ornaments inside his sprawling ecosystem. One of his apparitions is a young girl, perhaps too young to understand the depths of Paterson’s words, but proves nimble enough to understand the beauty of them. A Japanese tourist (Masatoshi Nagase, who starred in Mystery Train) confides in Paterson’s abilities and integrity as a poet. He is an outsider whose mere contrast of appearance and attire denote a cultural rift, but such differences are offset by he and Paterson’s passions which prove strikingly similar.
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a musing and life-affirming tract that both affirms and subverts the idea of mundanity in everyday life. Appreciating every word in its a oneness, every verse in its insignificance, and every stanza in its dignified loneliness, Jarmusch truly captures the existential incertitude of woebegone poets and unrecognized craft. Because of that, there is a special kind of poignancy at Paterson’s core. It celebrates life’s smallness in finer points, because life, for all its grand pursuits, is unique in every microscopic detail.
This is a reprint from the Vancouver International Film Festival. To read more coverage of the festival, click here.