It’s a movie Jim, but not as we know it. It’s a slice of cheesecake. Paterson is like one of those ribbed pictures that change when you move your hand back and forth. There is the illusion of movement, but the picture never really changes into something new. The film is a portrait that keeps going through the same motions, and finds an element of grace in that.
Adam Driver plays a driver, a bus driver named Paterson in the city Paterson, New Jersey. In the morning, he kisses his lovely wife, walks to the depot, and his day in the bus passes by like a dream. He comes home, and he and his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) are perfectly loving and supportive of each other. Paterson walks the dog Marvin and has a beer in the same pub every evening. All the while, he composes poems, based on things he sees around him. The next morning, everything starts over again but as a slight variation on the previous day. Paterson is a simple, content man.
After about 10 minutes into this movie, I started to get nervous. Everybody in the movie was content and everything seemed to be going well. In my book, that means that something bad is going to happen. But director Jim Jarmusch (known from Only Lovers Left Alive) steadfastly refuses to put drama or conflict into the story. He even teases us by showing little moments that feel as if something bad is going to happen, and some people do feel bad now and then in this movie, but then the drama passes again and everything is alright again. It is like Paterson the movie and the character are keeping a very fine balance of a quiet, content life.
The key lies in the relationship between Paterson and his wife Laura.
They are two completely different individuals. Paterson is a quiet dreamer, adaptive and easily pleased. Laura is full of big dreams and creative energy and jumps from plan to plan. But Paterson and Laura seem to understand each other and seemingly totally accept each other. Jarmusch makes us feel the little disconnect between their characters, and it makes their acceptance of each other heartwarming. I just want them to be ok. I wish they were my neighbors.
The poems that Paterson narrates are also about quiet, ordinary life. I didn’t really understand the significance of them, except to focus our attention towards the simple sights and sounds of ordinary life. The film is dreamy like that. A bit pretentious perhaps? But that’s ok. I found Paterson inspiring. I wish I had more of Paterson in my own life. A simpler life, less anxiety, more contentment. As a story, the film isn’t much to speak of, but it is that feeling of quiet grace that it wants to communicate, that is its goal.
But Paterson’s contentment is an extreme. It is almost a Buddhist rejection of ego. He sometimes seems tense and too accepting of his situation. The relationship with the bubbly Laura seems to be in a balance, but Paterson and Laura themselves felt out of balance as individuals. The movie Paterson is in the end an idealized image, and not ordinary life as it really is. It’s a magical bubble in which it is always sunny and things work out.
I couldn’t fully believe in the fantasy and I was waiting for things to snap.
It sure made me think. Recommended if you are in a pensive mood.