*This Review Is Spoiler Free!!!*
“I’d rather watch paint dry”, exclaims the sarcastic individual commenting on how BORING a movie is or how slow a class is going. How much time do we have left? It’s been 5 minutes but it feels like an hour. I’m as hard-pressed as the average person when it comes to watching a film described as slow or plotless. At least I don’t have to pay to watch paint dry. Nonetheless, there are a few select films with little focus on story and excitement and more on themes and spectacle (2001: A Space Odyssey). Nonetheless, this past year I heard stir about a particular little indie film called Paterson. Adam Driver, best known as the emotionally unstable Star Wars villain Kylo Ren, stars as the titular main character. Reviews were universally raving and I figured eventually I would get around to watching it. Well, after deciding to watch randomly it one early morning around 3, I can proudly say that the decision to watch Paterson is the third best decision I’ve ever made at 3 AM. Let’s talk about the quiet, introspective modern masterpiece that is Paterson.
Adam Driver stars as the titular Paterson, a bus driver in the city of Paterson. The film is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Paterson enjoys writing poetry and spending time with his wife Laura, who enjoy his poetry more than Paterson does himself. Every day, Paterson gets up and does the exact same thing. He drives his bus around town while listening to his passengers’ conversations. In between rides, he scribbles more poetry onto a notebook he always carries with him. He walks his wife’s dog and then heads over to his bar of choice to enjoy a single beer, repeating his process from the bus and silently observing and listening in on other patrons. This is as much as I can write to describe the story. Not in risk of revealing spoilers, but there’s really nothing else to describe. That is essentially everything that happens. Rinse, wash, repeat. Paterson goes through an almost identical routine every day. For 118 minutes, Paterson wakes up, talks to his girlfriend, drives the bus, writes poetry in between stops, listens to his passengers’ conversations, walks his wife’s dog, goes to the bar and listens to conversations there, goes home. Repeat as necessary.
Paterson is a man of quiet resolve. Adam Driver’s quiet, brooding performance is the fuel that launches the film off the ground. The man who had previously portrayed an emotionally unstable Star Wars antagonist turns down the emotion and resolves himself a man not just resigned to a boring existence, but as one who revels in it. We only see a week in his life, but I feel this has been his daily routine for quite some time. One of his defining trademarks is his love for writing poetry. His poetry is spontaneous yet inspired. The conversations & interactions he encounters throughout the day are certainly a source of inspiration for his writings. He frequently carries a notebook around to jot his poetry down should he be inspired throughout the day.
His relationship with his wife Laura is almost too sweet and perfect for a film. She views his poetry in high regard and often encourages him to publish it or at least make copies. However, he is reluctant. It doesn’t seem apparent why at first, but I’ll go into my reasoning a bit later. Meanwhile, I could describe Paterson and Laura’s relationship as gentle and playful. She is bubbly and outgoing, while he is broody and contemplative. If opposites attract, then these two would be the proof. I’m certain the chemistry between the actors helped establish legitimacy and realism. Paterson often encourages Laura and her varying passions, such as learning how to play guitar. His support and love are genuine. This is not a film that needs to instigate a huge fight that will quickly be fixed out of nowhere at the end of the film. Paterson, if you can’t tell already, is a feel good film. There is little conflict and when it arises, it is minor and overall inconsequential. You might argue that the constant monotony and repetition is the biggest conflict. You fear that things will go sour fast after Paterson snaps. This is thankfully not the case.
There’s good reason why our main character and the city he’s located in share the same name. Paterson’s life essentially revolves around the city of Paterson. His job is there, his apartment is there, his bar of choice is there, you get the idea. So why are they the same? In my opinion, Paterson the man’s relationship with Paterson the city is very reflective of Paterson’s relationship with his passengers and everyone he interacts with. For Paterson the man, Paterson the city is all he knows as home. He feels comfortable and content there. He revels in his minimalist life, which he owes solely to his city. Taking a look at the people/stories that inspire his poetry, we see similar parallels. These people are usually strangers and don’t know Paterson personally. Yet, he learns many things about them. They hardly notice their bus driver listening in on their stories, but it’s not in an nosy way. Paterson feels at home when hearing stories, when writing poetry, when enjoying a simple beer with the same people. His poetry serves as a home for what he has obtained from his day to day life. Rather than simply writing what he hears word for word, he translate it into something a bit more meaningful to him. He is reluctant to share his poetry to a larger public because he fears it will diminish the value of the stories given to him. He never asked for them, and yet he still receives them thanks to his propensity as a good listener. Paterson has become a sort of home for these strangers and their experiences. It doesn’t matter how repetitive his life may seems. For him, his life is enriched and fulfilling.
Thus, Paterson truly derives joy from the repetition and mundaneness of his life. The stories he hears every day provide material for his poetry, but therein lies something deeper. To me, Paterson is not being selfish here. Official recognition/fame is not his goal for as a poet. His goal is to preserve the uniqueness and creativity of the city that became his home. Paterson isn’t depressed or constantly pondering the meaning of line. The film has no desire to explore philosophical themes or make grand statements about human existence. It is meant to celebrate monotony.
Jim Jarmusch’s films are usually classified as minimalistic and meditative. Admittedly, this is my first Jim Jarmusch film. I had to wikipedia the director to determine how his style was classified. Apparently, the majority of his films are similar to Paterson. Slow, minimalistic, little important placed on plot. His films are all about character, a personal favorite film genre of mine. Paterson is a unique character study that is reinforced through minimal plot and dialogue. Character traits and motivations are revealed to how characters act towards one another. The way they look and how they react to the limited dialogue that does appear fill in relationships between characters.
I believe the most important thing the film wanted us to take away is that any of us can be Paterson. Often times we feel our lives fall into a slump, a repetitive journey wherein we circle the same track every day. Even though the gate is open, we remain on the track. Paterson goes as far as to glorify and celebrate this lifestyle. We are seeing the upsides of a boring existence. Even in this monotonous routine, we have our purpose. We can comfortably remain on this circular path without too much discomfort or apathy. The movie isn’t encouraging people to stay in the same rut they’re in. However, it’s not focused on inspiring you to make drastic changes and climb out of your rut. Paterson is bold and confident enough to tell us that it’s ok to be caught in a loop, and that things can still be fine. What we make of what we have is what matters most. We can find meaning and happiness in a repetitive life by effectively creating something out of nothing. It’s the little things that matter. Perhaps one day things won’t be as monotonous as they are now. It’s certainly something to work towards. Nonetheless, enjoy the quiet serenity of your repetitive life. What matters most now is that you keep going and going, trudging through the repetition. Even if things are going slow, they’re still going. Never let things come to a complete stop.
Paterson is quite the unconventional for doing so, but it achieves its goals and then some. I wish more people had gone to see this in 2016, but of course it’s never too late to watch a fantastic, under the radar film. I foresee many “hidden gem” movies on my watchlist in the near future. If they’re anything like Paterson, I’ll be hoping for a boost in popularity of slow, minimalist films.