Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson: A film for those who watch life @ HOME
Jim Jarmusch’s new film Paterson is one of the most delicately crafted masterpieces to come to our screens this year. Quietly moving, it follows a week in the life of bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver), who also happens to live in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. What distinguishes this film from much of the movie industry today is its refusal to lean on any specific plot, relying rather on the occurrence of incidents that pop up in Paterson’s day-to-day life.
Paterson lives a life of routine: he wakes up between 06:00 and 06:30 next to his girlfriend, walks to work, drives the bus until lunch, writes poetry during his lunch break, drives until the end of the working day, walks back home, walks the dog, stops to have a pint of beer at the usual bar and walks home again where he ends his day with a quiet evening. While this may sound mundane, the film manages to bring out the little moments of magic and curiosity that make each day distinguishable from the others. Many of these small moments evolve around Paterson’s interactions with or observations of strangers: the conversations he hears on the bus, the little girl who reads him her poem, or the (un)romantic conversations between two ex-lovers at the bar, to name a few. It’s during these moments that Driver shines as an actor, as he joins the viewer in the process of observing, gazing with a somewhat stoic expression and yet at the same time evoking complex emotions in the audience, be it bemusement, joy or heartache.
These everyday events play out through the film alongside a running theme of opposites, demonstrated in its most basic sense in his own monochromatically decorated home. While Paterson seems a simple man of few words, his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), is everything he is not. Much like a child, she lives in a world of shortly pursued dreams, whether it’s opening her own cupcake shop or becoming a great country singer. Unlike her boyfriend who sits on the same bus all day, every day of the week, Laura exudes an uncontrollable restlessness which can either mesmerise or repulse the audience, depending on how comfortable you are with high levels of crazy. However, it’s evident from the moment the audience locks eyes on her unruly curls that she and Paterson work, as she sparks up his sober world with a bit of insanity.
Paterson might be considered unambitious by those fond of action-packed, plot-driven blockbusters: There’s no dramatic or moral message being pushed, nor is it a classic ‘feel-good’ movie. What Jarmusch does achieve in Paterson, however, is to give a voice to the observer who so often goes forgotten in a world where stories have protagonists. He constructs Paterson so that at first glance he appears to blend into the background of everyday life, but is then explored to such an extent that we are left with a complex character that acts as both a central and minor character. Jarmusch thus questions the traditions of characterization, and in doing so reveals the beauty of watching.
If we are to take anything away from Paterson it would be the curiously fascinating nature of observing, of putting aside the goings on of our own lives in order to observe our surroundings and those that inhabit it.