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Paterson – Movie Review

23 November, 2016 — by Ben Rabinovich0

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a profound, sweet and contemplative film that finds duality in the minor details of everyday life.

Adam Driver sitting on a bus in Paterson film

Christopher Hitchens once said, “Everyone has a book inside them, which is exactly where it should, in most cases, remain.”

For Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, it’s quite the opposite. Every morning, he (Adam Driver) wakes up without the help of an alarm at 6.15am, kisses his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) has breakfast (Cheerios) and walks to his job where he’s a bus driver. Before starting his shift, he writes down some prose poetry – observations about time; thoughts; love for Laura. It’s simple, yet pure and real poetry. She begs him to make copies of his work in case he decides to publish them one day.

The protagonist’s name is Paterson – yes, Adam Driver plays a bus driver called Paterson, who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. Usually this observation would be an amusing, but irrelevant aside, but here this little wordplay captures the very essence of the film. A Driver playing a bus driver; a character called Paterson who lives in Paterson – the film is full of such pleasing symmetries and dualities.

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in Paterson film

Every day is a replica of the previous day; Paterson encounters several sets of twins; when he and his wife catch an old movie, the female lead bears an uncanny resemblance to Laura – something he doesn’t miss. Paterson’s whole life is full of reflections – his favourite poet is William Carlos Williams, who wrote an epic poem set in Paterson, New Jersey. What does this all mean?

Everything and nothing. Some people may find this frustrating, but this is what makes Paterson such a thoroughly profound, sweet and contemplative movie. Paterson has a dog, an English bulldog called Marvin, which as pointed out by a shady looking man – costs a lot of money. This odd interaction, coupled with the fact that Paterson leaves Marvin tied outside the bar he goes to every night for exactly one drink adds a frisson of danger to the film, but only because we infer a sinister connection between the two instances.

Just as twins present an explicit connection, without any need for interpretation, Jarmusch ensures that the film is littered with their reflection: scenes and actions, seemingly unconnected, which force us to create our own connections and impose our own symmetries.

Is the spurned lover in the bar a harmless romantic or a dangerous lunatic? Are the kids on the bus (the young couple from Moonrise Kingdom) real anarchists or just playing at it? Why does Laura love monochrome patterns so much? These questions float in and out of earshot, some are answered, some are left unexplored on purpose. All of this creates an odd sense of discombobulation: a film about a bus driver writing poems sounds so simple yet it’s anything but.

Adam Driver in Paterson film

Music is a prime culprit in this investigation; it cannot be trusted. An odd, suspenseful beat lurks about during harmless scenes like Paterson walking to work, making the innocuous ‘seemingly innocuous’. Fading images of Paterson’s Fall, coupled with serene music and Paterson’s own highly structured daily routine make the film occasionally feel like what Groundhog Day could have been had it been directed by David Lynch, in a good way. (Like there’s a bad way.)

The big question one may ask is, “why?” Why everything and nothing? Why make connections that don’t exist or won’t occur? To answer that, it’s probably appropriate to turn to William Carlos Williams himself…

“For the beginning is assuredly / the end – since we know nothing, pure / and simple, beyond our own complexities.”

A simple film about a simple man is confusing, at times tense, at others unnerving precisely because we know nothing. If we knew everything, Paterson’s world and film would be vanilla. It would be painfully boring. Instead there are infinite shades of simple purity that Jarmusch wonderfully mixes in with our own complexities. 4/5

Please note, this review was originally published in October 2016, as part of our London Film Festival coverage. including Disney’s Queen of Katwe.


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