In Paterson, Adam Driver lives an idealized version of life as a bus driving poet where everything is calm and serene.
In Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Adam Driver plays a gentle poet named Paterson, who drives a bus in Paterson, New Jersey. His lives an idealized version of life as a bus driver. There are no crazy bus passengers. Sounds never reach a din. A married couple can live comfortably on Paterson’s income alone. Here, the contemplative life is as accessible as in a remote monastery, and almost as quiet, too. Although the film delights in the mundane — Paterson finds inspiration for his poetry from the matchbox in their kitchen — make no mistake: the film is a fantasy. And for a couple of hours, it’s a blissful, peaceful world to live in, where you glimpse excitement from a distance.
Paterson’s existence is preternaturally quiet. Jarmusch chooses mostly still frames, each one lingering for a few seconds, without much camera movement. The sounds from the outside world, like the bus ignition or a passing siren, filter into Paterson’s consciousness, but they’re at such a muted volume that they never intrude. The loudest thing in the film’s soundscape is the sound of Paterson’s thoughts: in voiceover, we hear him thinking through his poems as the words appear on screen.
Over the course of a week, we follow Paterson on his daily routine: waking up in bed with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), eating the same bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, jotting down some poetic notes before starting his route, and finishing off the day at his local bar. Paterson’s bus is his temple, and the driver’s box is his cocoon. The way Jarmusch frames Paterson driving, there’s never any danger of a passenger intruding in his space. They’re at a safe distance, but an easy one for eavesdropping.Paterson’s bus is his temple, and the driver’s box is his cocoon.Click To Tweet
Drama orbits around Paterson without penetrating his serene, regimented life. He’s detached enough from it to take pleasure in it, just as we do. The supporting characters form the tapestry of the town, which allows Jarmusch to make quiet, thoughtful observations about human behaviour. Lovers quarrel; passengers discuss everything from anarchy to missed connections; and Paterson just takes it all in as fodder for his work. Paterson’s evening walks with his dog, Marvin (the 2106 Palm Dog winner), bring warm surprises: he happens upon Method Man rehearsing his raps at the local laundromat and gets stopped by friendly gang members who seek not to pose a threat but to admire Marvin. And he closes out every night at his local bar, sipping beer, talking to the barkeep, and delighting in the minutiae of everyone’s life.
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When Only Lovers Left Alive was released, Tilda Swinton opined that Jim Jarmusch had been making vampire movies his whole life. Paterson may be removed from the world of bloodthirsty immortals, but Paterson isn’t really of our world. It’s not until late in the film that you even realize he doesn’t own a cell phone: the nagging beep or buzz of a text never interrupts his tranquility. A quick glance at a photo in his bedroom in the film’s opening scene suggests the reason for Paterson’s bliss in his simple life. He was a decorated soldier, and now he craves the very opposite of action. He observes; he writes; he loves his wife. The day his bus breaks down is the day most fraught with drama. There’s a melancholy that hangs over it all, the trauma of Paterson’s past that has pushed him into this quiet existence, or as his wife once says, it’s like living in the 20th century.Drama orbits around Paterson without penetrating his serene, regimented life. Click To Tweet
The one part of Jarmusch’s fantasy that is hardest to buy is Laura, a somewhat flaky artist who stays at home each day to paint black and white patterns on every surface in their house but delivers a home cooked meal each night, often making up her own bizarre recipes. Her function in the plot seems to be to give Paterson a sense of fulfillment: he has a wife, a dog, a job, and a house — what else is there? She prods at him to let the world read his poetry, and she makes an absurd request for a harlequin guitar she saw on an online infomercial. It mostly draws attention to the fact that he can’t be earning much, so how can she stay at home painting everything in sight?
Their physical affection is touching, but it’s never quite clear whether Paterson tolerates Laura’s flights of fancy or thrives on them. Then again, as kind and loving as Paterson is, his very inability to get particularly passionate about anything or alter his routine might only be tolerated by someone as flaky as his wife. He needs someone who can find adventure in their simple home, where every surface is an invitation for an art project, because he’s not likely to ever want to leave, even for a vacation. He may be more fiscally responsible, but they’re both eccentrics in their own way.For a few minutes, you achieve the same relaxed contentment that Paterson gets from the act of creation and the rhythm of his days.Click To Tweet
The joy of Paterson is that Jarmusch puts us in Paterson’s head space so that we can feel the calm, too. Paterson’s favourite place is the waterfalls near his work. Often, when he shifts into flow, the words pouring out of him, Jarmusch fades from Paterson, to the streets, to the gushing of the waterfall, before pushing in on Paterson in deep concentration. It puts you into a meditative stupor. For a few minutes, you achieve the same relaxed contentment that Paterson gets from the act of creation and the rhythm of his days.
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