PATERSON is the quintessence of everything Jim Jarmusch has done before. Playful in approach, deeply philosophical in meaning, it is a lyrical evocation of joy and sorrow as lived by a bus driver/poet during one eventful yet ordinary week in his life.
The bus driver (Adam Driver), his route, and the city in which he lives with his artistic wife, Laura, (Golshifteh Farahani) are all named Paterson. What would otherwise be precious is in Jarmush’s hands a profound meditation on all manner of dualities, including that of correspondences and coincidence, as we follow Paterson from the time he wakes up until he goes to bed. The device allows us to fall into the rhythmic pattern of his days, with the variations. Some are as vibrant as the bold black-and-white designs Laura uses to cover their home and his lunch, some as insignificant as the exact time he wakes up without the assistance of an alarm clock, or the specific litany of complaints from his supervisor (Rizwan Manji). Yet nothing is left to chance narratively. Foreshadowing and red-herrings mix, and the mystery of a mailbox that is upright in the morning and tilted in the afternoon add piquance and surprise, as does the seemingly endless train of grunts, yips, and sighs that emanate from Paterson’s English bulldog, Marvin, as he comments on his condition.
Driver is sublime. In a film rife with small details and enormous nuance, his is a performance of great restraint, yet profound emotional resonance. A genuinely kind soul, who is painstaking in his precise prose poems, frankly admiring of an aspiring rapper (Method Man) dropping rhymes by himself in a laundromat, and besotted by his wife such that he supports each of her dreams as the float into her head enough to feign enthusiasm for her surprise pie (spoiler: Brussels sprouts) while downing glassful and glassful of water with a grim determination. Driver gives him the gift of being absolutely present in every moment, as though each millisecond of life is a deeply considered gift, and the world around him an adventure waiting to be discovered because of his love for Laura, who is not just a soulmate, but the perfect opposite to intertwine with him, a whirlwind of creative expression whose each iteration is meant for the world to devour, and him the quiet master of expressing in words, kept private in a secret notebook, the ineffable feelings that can render a simple matchstick into a deeply moving metaphor of devotion.
Around him love is less successful, life is less meaningful, and the joy that Adam and Laura share is in painfully short supply. Punctuated by Driver’s rendition of Paterson’s exquisite poetry, PATERSON the film finds truth in the same pain that is at once absurd and searing, and a world-view that is exhilarating for its seemingly simple accessibility by all. It’s all about the point of view. Where most see decay in abandoned buildings, Jarmusch finds an intoxicating beauty in the decay, the rust and bricks wearing their history in a sepia=tinged light that imbues them with the wistful melancholy of nostalgia. It’s the landscape that doesn’t see a bus driver in a rundown part of America, but rather, as in one of Laura’s reveries, a Persian prince on a silver elephant who is the lord of all he surveys. Quixotic, sly, and every bit as poetic as the title character himself, this is a film to be savored in the moment and long afterwards.