Greetings again from the darkness. Do you find poetry in everyday life? What about poets … do you envision loners whose lives are filled with angst and suffering? Our lead character here is a pretty normal guy who drives a city bus, has a happy marriage, and walks his dog each evening. He’s also a poet – and a pretty interesting one.
Writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, 2005) often seems like he is making films for his circle of friends … all whom must be much cooler than you and me. This time, however, he takes an opposite approach and brilliantly focuses on a dude that any of us could know. Paterson (Adam Driver) is a New Jersey Transit bus driver who writes poetry based on his observations of life’s seemingly minor details (his first poem notes “We have plenty of matches in our house”). You should be forewarned: there are no murders, kidnappings, bank robberies or shootouts.
Things move rather deliberately. Also missing are any special effects – heck, Adam Driver even got licensed to drive a bus for the role. Instead, we are forced to slow down and see each of the seven days of a week through the eyes and words of Paterson. He observes. He listens. He people watches. He then commits his thoughts to the page and recites them for our benefit. Sometimes he is eavesdropping on bus passengers, while other times he curiously tries to figure out the newest “dream” for his beloved wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Having the soul of an artist, Laura cloaks her world in a geometric black and white color scheme while energetically bounding from cupcakes to country and western music to cooking as she pursues her place in life.
There are many Jarmusch touches throughout. Paterson the poet actually lives and works in Paterson, New Jersey … yep, Paterson from Paterson. The interactions at the neighborhood bar (run by Barry Shabaka Henley) are simultaneously real and surreal – right down to the wall of local fame (including Hurricane Carter and Lou Costello, but no mention of Larry Doby). Coincidences abound. A young girl recites her poem to Paterson … her writing style, personal book, and delivery make her seem like his poetic doppelganger – all while the recurring appearance of numerous sets of twins make us believe in the law of attraction. Lastly, the closest thing to a villain in the film is Paterson’s bulldog Marvin, in what plays like a love-hate relationship with the mailbox being center-ring.
Another local Paterson (the city) aspect is Paterson’s (the poet) admiration of the works of William Carlos Williams, a poet whose style he emulates. One of the terrific scenes near the end involves a spontaneous interaction between Paterson and town visitor (Masatoshi Nagase) that takes place next to The Great Falls, and serves as a reminder that we should accept who we are, no matter the challenges or lack of glory. This is truly director Jarmusch’s ode to the artist/poet in each of us and in ordinary life. Creating art as best we can is a very personal thing, and for some it’s a need – while for others it’s one of life’s simple pleasures.
Regardless, a “normal” life with daily routines is not to be scorned, but rather embraced, should you be so fortunate. If you doubt this, Paterson asks, “Would you rather be a fish?”
**NOTE: sharp moviegoer eyes will recognize Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, who both had their debut in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012).