Paterson (2016)

This film is again obligatory watching due to its excellent reception from critics but it’s certainly puzzling to me how director Jim Jarmusch makes films that are each so different from one another. I’d found The Limits of Control to be almost incomprehensible and Only Lovers Left Alive to be a rather shallow comedy. I can’t say that I really cared much for either of them. Paterson on the other hand is easily one of my favorites of the year and is a pleasant, almost very light, watching experience.

Paterson is a man who lives in the city of Paterson, New Jersey with his wife Laura and her dog Marvin. He works as a bus driver for a living but spends his personal moments thinking of poetry. The film covers a week of his life as he goes about his daily routine. He wakes up at about the same time every day, walks to the bus depot, greets supervisor Donny, drives the bus, stops to eat his packed lunch and so forth. The highlight of his evening after dinner at home is taking Marvin out for a walk, during which time he also pops into a local bar to have a beer and usually chat with the owner Doc. As he goes about his day, he observes the lives around him and overhears snippets of many different conversations. His wife doesn’t work for a living but in addition to taking care of the house has a creative streak of her own being something of a painter and has recently developed an interest in playing the guitar. She also encourages Paterson to make a backup copy of his poetry as all of it exists only in the little notebook that he carries everywhere with him.

Nothing terribly exciting happens in Paterson’s life save for some drama between a pair of lovers at the bar he frequents and he follows pretty much the exact same routine everyday with very few variations. Yet this is far from being a boring film. There’s something very comforting and reassuring in the pleasant regularity of Paterson’s life and the entire point of the film is to show that despite its outward simplicity and an apparent lack of ambition, he leads a very fulfilling life with an inner richness that isn’t easily perceived by others. His poetry, with its plain language and the way it flows effortlessly, captures how he is conscious of the beauty in everything, from the matchboxes in his kitchen to the waterfall that is his favorite spot for lunch. Played by Adam Driver, Paterson’s calming voice as he reads aloud each new poem he works matches the cadence of the film as a whole, adding to the effect. This then is a film about seeing the beauty of quotidien life and appreciating small things and small moments.

The viewing experience is made all the more enjoyable by all the little flourishes that Jarmusch, who also wrote the screenplay in addition to directing it, has inserted. For no explicable reason, Paterson appears to see an unusually high number of twins around him. He takes note of this but seems to be the only person to do so. To me, this suggests that he is more open to noticing the wonder in everyday life. Similarly he takes great pleasure in listening to other people’s conversations though he does not himself seem to be a good conversationalist. Then there are the antics of Marvin the dog which seem to be a source of frustration for Paterson but are a great delight to the us viewers. Last but certainly not least in how Jarmusch seems to be telling us that poetry in all around us and exists in all sorts of forms though we might not know it. I think that’s a little forced and not quite realistic but it’s a very noble sentiment.

My wife writes that she finds this film very appealing at least in part because it depicts a way of life that is not too dissimilar to our own. In my case I know I’m not a creative type even if I try to make my life fulfilling in other ways. But yes, I do find this a very inspiring portrayal of what Tyler Cowen might call a complacent life but is no less meaningful for it. I don’t think this quite qualifies as a great film because it seems a little light but it’s an easy pick for favorite film of the year.

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