Review: ‘Paterson’

dfn-paterson-poster-300Sometimes, nothing can mean everything, at least in the hands of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.

In Paterson, written and directed by Jarmusch, Adam Driver stars as a bus driver named Paterson. He and his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) live in a modest home. They have a dog.

Routine is important to Paterson, the man. The morning dawn awakens him each day, ahead of the alarm. He dresses, walks to work, and drives silently for eight hours, through the narrow streets of Paterson, New Jersey. Sometimes he takes his lunch break at a local park, where he quietly writes poetry that he shares with no one. In the evenings, he often retreats to a windowless storage in his basement, where he writes more poetry. At the end of his work week, he drinks a beer at a neighborhood bar.

Paterson, the diverse community, is a city of about 150,000 people, located about 20 miles from New York City. To outsiders, it’s known primarily as a commuter city because of its proximity to Manhattan. Here, though, it’s a self-existing entity, a busy, mostly friendly, packed city that will be familiar to anyone who has lived or visited extensively in the Northeast United States.

Paterson’s marriage is a fitting symbol of diversity. There is evidence that he served in the military in the past, and she is from Iran. Where did they meet? How did they deal with cultural differences?

No matter. They are happy now, and clearly enjoy a loving relationship. They each have their quirks; Paterson is a taciturn fellow, while Laura is more outgoing and talkative. Yet they both have artistic souls. Paterson expresses himself through his poetry; Laura’s color palette is black and white, which she uses on any medium she encounters.

Things happen to Paterson and his wife. One day, the bus breaks down. On another evening, a disagreement at the bar turns briefly violent. On another day, Laura wonders how to earn money from her artistry. Eventually, something disturbs their gentle, pleasant routine, and they must seek to resolve the situation so they can return to their placid life.

Among Jarmusch’s early films, Night on Earth fascinated me. I watched it six or seven times on cable; its magical powers of routine and repetition in different locations around the world were increasingly mesmerizing. That movie revolved around five different cab drivers, so perhaps that’s why I’m making the connection, or perhaps it’s because routines have become more important to me as I age.

Certainly an argument can be made that routine is the enemy of an artistic life. Speaking only for myself, I would argue the converse; by the force of repetition, artistic inclinations can be set free.

That, it seems, is what has happened to Paterson. Most likely, it began in his early childhood, the desire to express himself. At some point, poetry became his favored medium. Could he explain it to anyone else? Perhaps not, especially since, outwardly, he has such a reserved personality. In poetry, however, Paterson enjoys total freedom, even if no one else ever reads it or acknowledges his creative gift.

The lulling, unhurried rhythms of Paterson, the movie, are naturally more attractive to some of us than others. The accumulation of those rhythms, however, and Paterson’s life force, and that of Laura, add up to something very, very special.

The film opens at Angelika Film Center in Dallas on Friday, July 27, via distributor Bleecker Street.