Paterson lives in the comfortable quiet of the everyday, the humdrum, unassuming spaces that make up the poetry of life. Makes sense, then, that it’s about a poet – named Paterson, who also lives in a town called Paterson, New Jersey. Therein lies the sort of playful coincidence that drives this film – random oddity that springs from seemingly nowhere, the alchemy of the mundane. Paterson the man isn’t fond of poems that rhyme, and nor is Paterson the film, which takes on the properties of poetry itself, acknowledging that a restrictive formal structure always looms but crafting a verse that leaps off the standard plane, taking on its own form and significance.
Not surprising that such an independently floating piece of cinema would come from Jim Jarmusch, himself an offbeat poet who cannot possibly move but by rhythms of his own creation. His oeuvre is a study in purposefully discordant poetry, marked by a compulsory break from traditional narrative structure – indeed, to eschew momentous occurrences almost entirely and weave stories where the significance lies somewhere in the margins. The results can vary from inspiring to infuriating, but the miracle of Paterson is how it distills all of Jarmusch’s preoccupations in a singular meditation. It feels like a culmination of a career, that every past work is a footprint that leads to this rhapsodic destination.
Adam Driver plays the title character, who would be a mystery if he wasn’t so completely on the level about his contentment in life’s plainness. He lives with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and a dog, Marvin (played by Nellie), who may well be a sinister force out to ruin him. While Laura is ever-enterprising, always embarking on a new hobby or opportunity, Paterson is satisfied with stasis, yet this imbalance is perfectly harmonious; they understand and support each other. Paterson’s life plays out on a daily loop – he wakes up early, eats his cereal, drives a city bus for eight hours, comes home for dinner with Laura, walks the dog, stops off at the local watering hole, and comes back home for bed. This is his cycle, which the film follows for a full week, from Monday to Monday, like seven verses with similar refrains, tweaked only by minute details. Paterson’s soul, and the film’s, resides in the acute observations within each day’s grind – the disembodied conversations of bus passengers, the chance daily encounters, the warmth of Laura’s newfound passions, the recurring drama of regular bar patrons. Each day is made up of its own small victories and defeats, and Paterson documents them all in his “secret” poetry book, a volume of his own observations that he simultaneously thinks too inconsequential to share, and yet so deeply tied to his experience that it’s a part of him. His poems spring up as occasional narration, mesmerizing commentaries on the profundity of everyday inertia.
In this meditation on life’s small pockets of poetry, the film achieves a sort of irresistible hypnotic reverie, a humane lyricism on which we glide for its full duration. Driver is remarkable, finding a low-key space where his very specific eccentricities can at once thrive and be kept in check. Moving through his daily route, he is our guide through the fleeting charms and recurring challenges of nothing less grand and tangible as time itself. The clock churns inexorably, on a constant loop, always restarting, and we follow its cycle…until, of course, we don’t anymore. The poetry of life is to capture the small moments, seeking the consequence in the inconsequential, finding a bliss that stands above and beyond the rote cycle of the everyday clock. In a way, that has always been Jarmusch’s aim, and in Paterson he pens his most graceful elegy.