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The mere mention of Jim Jarmusch to any who know his work send ripples of anticipation, as the visionary story-teller has, for thirty years now, created some of the most talked about and influential independent films in all of cinema. His often ambiguously-themed works have been source for debate and devotion for many who find themselves lulled by the challenging potential of the movies. With Paterson, he explores the beauty of art in the seemingly lost spaces of banal routines in this fantastical story that is a powerful metaphor for the creative process.
We meet Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. He is an invisible man per se, a person of exacting details and routines, quiet and reserved to the steady pulses of his daily life. Every day he wakes at the same time, roused by his Casio watch, drives his bus, walks a dog that barely puts up with him, and ends his day at a local bar. With him always is his notebook, in which he spills his thoughts in the form of poetry, written in observation of the passengers on his bus and the world around him.
These works are a joy to his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who herself is a fountain of creativity, cornering the market on cupcakes at the nearby farmer’s market while learning guitar in hopes of becoming a country singer. She supports him and longs for him to try and publish, or at least make a copy of his cherished book. He is too shy, to vulnerable, fearing what the role of a published writer might be and so hesitates as he slips through the days, one-by-one, ever watching and ever listening.
Written and directed by Jarmusch, Paterson is, like many of his films, a sensuous experience, one slow and careful, daring the viewer to look with better eyes. Driver, as the film’s protagonist, moves about the film like a milquetoast Forrest Gump, the encounters he has not world changing historical landmarks but rather personal moments in the lives of people who often don’t even notice he is there. Insulated by the anonymity of his job, he is witness to much that inspires him, though at the same time, leave him unprepared for the little quakes that give life its sudden setbacks.
Jarmusch avoids a few of the trappings of a standard romantic, thinking movie, keeping Paterson the character and Laura a couple with curious but not overly-obvious issues. The two are bound by each other, seemingly friendless (and without families) who corral their content relationship into the small spaces of their home and seem good for it. We meet other people as well, those in the bar, Paterson’s boss, and so on, who all have in sway in his writing.
This is a story takes place over the course of a week, and while not meant to be a week filled with drama it nonetheless is one with impact. These come in small but meaningful situations, such as when his bus breaks down and he is forced to emerge from the safety of his shell, made worse by the fact he doesn’t own a cell phone. And then there is a much larger incident at home that serves as an entirely different catalyst.
Being a Jarmusch film, the dialogue ripples from these character’s mouths with a kind of languid effect, sometimes taking a moment to lap at your shores before washing over you. It’s also a glorious thing to look at, with rich, deep black spaces that color the corners of many frames. Lilting transitions move with a poetry of their own, punctuated by another solid score by Jarmusch.
With all that, it is Driver who seals the deal, delivering a performance that feels like something he was meant to do. Driver already has a kind of somber weight to this frame, something that greatly helped his role as the troubled Kylo Ren in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Here, he has a sadness about him, even when he smiles, that generates astonishing resonance, especially as the film progresses. Farahani is also very strong, a warm and energetic presence that complements Paterson well. And then there is Marvin, the English Bulldog (played by and listed in the credits as Nellie, who has his own IMDb page), the film’s subversive antagonist so to speak, who serves as a very significant part in the evolution of the character and story of Paterson.
Paterson has much to say about the personal passion of creativity, the myriad hurdles and heartaches that are bled from it, and the need to express ourselves, no matter the venue, be it the world stage or the pages of book no one is meant to read.
Movie description: Paterson is a 2016 drama about a bus driver with poetry living in the corners of his life and the road untraveled.
Director(s): Jim Jarmusch
Actor(s): Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Nellie