“Sometimes an empty page presents more possibilities.”
The man’s name is Paterson (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and he lives in Paterson, New Jersey. Every weekday morning, he wakes up, goes to work and begins his bus driving shift. He listens attentively to the assorted conversations being held by his passengers. After work, he goes home, greets his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani, Exodus: Gods and Kings), eats dinner, takes Laura’s dog Marvin out for a walk, stops by the local bar, enjoys a beer, chats with the bartender (Barry Shabaka Henley, Collateral), listens to more conversations, goes home and goes to bed. During the moments of spare time that appear throughout the day, he writes poetry in his notebook.
The film unfolds over the course of a single week, and the repeating rhythms of each day (and their mostly-slight variations) are detailed with steady attentiveness. The film’s structure will feel familiar to Jarmusch fans, as this sort of segmented repetition is something he’s drawn to: one recalls Bill Murray’s assorted visits with ex-lovers in Broken Flowers, the oh-so-specific routines of the hitman in The Limits of Control and the way coffee and cigarettes provide a center of gravity for the diverse segments of Coffee and Cigarettes. After carefully establishing his patterns, Jarmusch finds thought-provoking insight in the variations that occur (or don’t).
Paterson (the man) and Jarmusch have something in common: they both pay careful attention to their surroundings, and what they see informs their art. However, the comparison isn’t too self-flattering: Paterson isn’t depicted as a man alone in a world that only he can truly see. One of the beautiful things about Paterson (the movie) is that it recognizes that there a lot of other Patersons out there, going about their own daily routines and chipping away at their own projects. Paterson encounters a young girl who writes her own poetry, a heartsick man named Everett (William Jackson Harper, The Good Place) making vain attempts to convince his ex-girlfriend to take him back and even Method Man (playing himself) hammering out lyrics in a laundromat.
However, the world also has people like Laura (who is depicted with no less affection): people who seem to change their routine with regularity, hopping from passion to passion, trying new things, following the whirlwinds of their creativity and curiosity. Paterson and Laura are very different people, but their relationship is stabilized by the fact that each has a genuine understanding of what the other needs. They’re happy together. Money is a little tight, but life is good. Watching the film, I was struck by how uncommon it is to see such a detailed, observant portrait of a genuinely good relationship (discord is often examined with precision, while harmony often feels bland or artificial).
Not everyone is as content as Paterson seems to be. One of his fellow bus drivers has a daily laundry list of assorted woes, and Everett’s misery seems to be increasingly all-consuming. Before the film has concluded, Paterson will be confronted with his own source of heartache. Life has plenty of tragic moments that come crashing in, sending us spinning out of the orbit of our routines and sometimes robbing us of the things we love. Sometimes we can put the pieces back together. Sometimes we can’t. But sooner or later, we have to find a way to move forward. The film has a deep, empathetic understanding of this truth.
The film also offers a valuable reminder that your passions are what define you, not your profession Occasionally, someone gets lucky enough to see the two collide. If you aren’t one of those lucky few, it doesn’t diminish the truth of your identity. Paterson is a bus driver, but he is not a bus driver: he is a poet. We do we must to keep living. In the moments of freedom life grants us, we write our poems, or take our photos, or play our instruments, or organize our political rallies, or play our sports or write our movie reviews. We spend time with the people we love, and spend time alone when we need to. This is life. This is who we are.
Paterson (Blu-ray) offers an excellent 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. The film’s look is modest – largely defined by the ordinary sights of daily life in Paterson – but attractive, and the level of detail is exceptional. The image benefits from impressive depth, and there’s only a small amount of noise present during darker scenes. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is both front-heavy and spare, but gets the job done nicely. Sound design is light but effective, and there’s a solid balance between dialogue and music (a languid score by SQURL). Supplements are non-existent: you a digital copy and nothing else.
Paterson is one of Jarmusch’s finest films, and a beautiful ode to life. Highly recommended.