Written & Directed by Jim Jarmusch
I first encountered William Carlos Williams and Jim Jarmusch in college. The former was reading “This is Just to Say” in an English II class and the latter was through the film Coffee & Cigarettes. I loved both but just haven’t done a good enough job continuing to explore the work of either artist. Paterson is a perfect merger of both creators’ sensibilities. There is no plot, no conflict, just life being lived by a full-time poet, a part-time bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. The result is a movie that is entirely sublime, the spotlight on Adam Driver as the lead who walks through life in a measured, observant manner. No film will thoroughly chill you out like Paterson.
Paterson is the name of the man and the city, the city being the home to William Carlos Williams and he, in turn, inspires the man to write poetry. The first poem we see is inspired by Paterson’s observation of a box of matches. Out of this small moment during Monday morning breakfast, he composes a love poem that Williams would be proud of. From there, we spend the week with our lead as he drives his bus routes, spends time with his wife, walks the dog to the corner bar in the evenings. The last twenty minutes bring anything close to conflict and Jarmusch isn’t interested in manufactured drama, he has Paterson react appropriately and process this bump in the road.
Jarmusch refers to himself as a “pseudo-Buddhist,” and you can see that exploration reflected in Paterson’s demeanor. He isn’t cold, but his emotions are controlled, he gently teases his wife, he regards his coworkers with quiet respect. Paterson absorbs every moment, he notices the details, and he listens to the conversations of his passengers, not to be a voyeur but because he takes joy in the thoughts and experiences of others. His wife’s varied dreams (baking cupcakes professionally, becoming a country music singer) are treated with playful respect; he never diminishes her enthusiasm. She believes he should share his poetry with the world and finds the quotidian nature of his inspiration to be beautiful. You watch this couple, and you see them as something genuinely aspirational.
The film itself is structured like a poem, each day a refrain with variations. The morning often begins with Paterson waking without an alarm and glancing at his wristwatch on the nightstand. The minutes vary, but he seems attuned to the world, so he knows when to rise. His day ends with walking the dog and stopping by the bar to share fellowship with the bartender and its patrons. I can’t express how perfect this movie feels as you watch it. The premise sounds like something that would induce sleep, but the central character and his supporting cast are so genuine and compelling that I felt energized at the film’s conclusion.
Poetry has become an oft-ignored art in recent times, likely because American society values a certain breakneck burnout pace to life. Good poetry does not arise from that sort of primordial ooze; instead, it is born out of contemplation and allowed to grow at its own pace. Poetry is also found in the unspectacular; it is the mundane made transcendent; it is the unexpected made obvious. Jarmusch understands this notion and builds his movie in that lazy, thoughtful way. There’s no act structure here; we observe Paterson observing, finding beauty in serendipitous moments. A young girl’s poem on rain lingering in his mind until he must share it with his wife.