Paterson is one of the two Jim Jarmusch films released in 2016 — the other being a music documentary about The Stooges titled Gimme Danger (2016). Whereas viewers might walk into Gimme Danger hoping to experience the raw power of Iggy Pop, viewers should take a different approach towards Jarmusch’s other project this year. Paterson is set in Paterson, New Jersey, and follows the life of a bus driver (Adam Driver) who happens to share his city’s name. Paterson leads an ascetic life: he’s in love with a woman named Laura (Golshifteh Farahani); he drives the #23 Paterson route; and, he writes poetry in his spare time. This film is a slice of, about a week of Paterson’s life. You might wonder what there is to see — and to that end, I invite you to watch this film and judge for yourself: is there something worth seeing through the eyes of an ascetic bus driver?
Lather, Rinse & Repeat… Paterson is not so much plot-driven, but rather pattern-driven. Every day, Paterson wakes up, naturally, at about the same time. He always wakes before his partner Laura. He eats a bowl of cereal, grabs his lunch box, and walks to the bus terminal where he’s responsible for the #23 bus route. His co-worker Donny always complains about his life and his family. And then, he goes about his day. His days are made of and infused with patterns. A bus route is a pattern. A daily lunch break outside is a pattern. Paterson keeps on running into twins, which is a pattern of human patterns. At the local bar that Paterson stops in for a nightly beer, a couple is always on the verge of breaking up. His house is quite literally becoming engulfed in patterns: patterns on curtains, patterns on cupcakes, patterns on his partner’s dresses. Even his name is a pattern in that it’s both an almost homophone of the word ‘pattern’ and an echo of his city’s name. And yet, in all these patterns, aberrations do manage to emerge. To borrow a phrase from Westworld — a place where patterns are fundamental — out of repetition comes variation; and, when something breaks through the monotony of patterns, it’s discombobulating whether good or bad; and Paterson is an excellent exploration of this. No matter how free a soul, all lives follow patterns and all of us have had these patterns broken. And it’s here that viewers might resonate most with this New Jersey bus driver who’s somewhat of an analog guy in a digital world, a character that, in this technology-driven world, is idiosyncratic.
Ode to a Common Urn… Paterson is a contemplative film buoyed by the playful and vibrant cinematography and an understated score, which makes watching it a pleasure. Every now and then, it takes on a dream-like quality. Other times, Jarmusch inserts some gentle humor to break up the ouroboros of routine. But more than anything, Paterson feels like an ode to all the quiet lives that are not usually represented on the silver screen. The screen’s always been about the big and the eventful, the exciting and the dramatic; but Paterson celebrates the small surprises and banal pleasantries of everyday lives. As a bus driver, Paterson interacts with a whole host of people transiently day in and day out. Through him, we survey Paterson, NJ. Sometimes, you listen to college students talk about ideology and anarchy, exuding the youthful naïveté of revolution; sometimes you listen to a man speak about his connection with a woman he met; other times, you look out the windshield and just see life. To that end, Paterson is a change of pace of sorts; a palate cleanser amid big explosions and garish CGI.
Not Your Average Indie… This film isn’t necessarily what viewers might expect it to be — assuming that viewers read the description and inferred that this is a talky, moody, plotless waste of time. There sure is a specific mood; and, the plot is a bit loose; but, it’s in these relaxed rhythms that Jarmusch coaxes his audience to contemplate along with his characters. Jarmusch’s films are indeed contemplative, but there are tired tropes that come with contemplative films which do not apply to this film: for instance, this is not a navel-gazing hipster fest about a misunderstood artist. It’s also not a milquetoast meander through a Joe Nobody’s life. What this film is, is understated; but, don’t let that mislead you: Paterson is understated, but it does make a statement.