It would be interesting to account for the number of big moments found in all of Jim Jarmusch’s films. Paterson is the 12th feature film from the acclaimed indie director and it continues to show Jarmusch’s focus on existential drama, with an absence of much in the way of impactful moments. Give or take some gunfights found in Dead Man or Ghost Dog, the director’s style has always evoked a sense of minimalism. Featuring lead characters and their contemplative sense of self, surrounded by others who are more high energy and loaded with various idiosyncrasies, Paterson finds a way to balance a sense of repetitiveness with what kind of profound discovers can be made from jotting down poetry concerning what life has to offer. The film is slow, long and uneventful. I loved it.
Let’s examine that more closely. Paterson is slow in the sense that we watch our lead character Paterson (Adam Driver) go through his days, repeating the same activities. He wakes up, has breakfast, goes to work as a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, has dinner with his live-in girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks the dog (Palm Dog Award winner Nellie) and has one beer at a local bar. We see this process repeat itself and standby as the characters interact. Within all of this, we see Paterson write down poems in his secret notebook. These aren’t major reveals about a tortured past or anything like that, but instead a way for him to decipher life and occasionally direct his feelings towards certain subjects.
For all of this, the film is slow to the point of refusing to settle on more than just nuances within the characters and setting. As a bus driver, Paterson is privy to the conversations of many, but he still remains stationary in his driver’s seat, merely listening. As a bar patron, he interacts with bartender Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), but puts little out there beyond a sense of goodwill in being a kind individual who enjoys a degree of companionship. Paterson is essentially never in a hurry and neither is Paterson when it comes to telling its story.
Paterson is long. At nearly two hours, the film has such a sense of pacing that the activities we find Paterson engaging in manage to stretch out to a lengthy degree. The film tells the story of a week in the life of Paterson and despite seeing many of the same activities unfold with little variation, the effort is put forward to show the little details that provide insight and moments of humor. Some may frown at pacing they could describe as languid and even the score by Sqürl (a rock band featuring Jarmusch) capitalizes off the stretches of time that pass by. However, as minimal as Paterson’s journey may be, there is a way to appreciate the time spent burrowing into this bus driver’s mind.
Finally, Paterson is uneventful. This is trickier, but true to a point. Something must happen, as it is a film after all, so without detailing what sort of developments occur for a man who lives his life so simply, there are events taking place that reshape or at least offset the days of Paterson’s life. It is also worth noting the various individuals Paterson interacts with and how circular their paths may seem as well. Notably a couple (portrayed by William Jackson Harper and Chasten Harmon) constantly seen at the bar Paterson frequents provide enough outside action to suggest they will constantly be in a state of flux.
For Paterson, however, it is to the film’s credit that we do see moments that break up his continual cycle and open up possibilities as to how his world may change. Whether it does or not is a question the film allows for the audience to determine for themselves. Still, there is also the minimal presentation of another Jarmusch protagonist, which generally requires a loner-type to journey through seemingly regular days. The benefit of watching an uneventful life unfold, however, is picking up on visual quirks, such as the mention of twins in a dream had by Laura, only to have Paterson see a set of twins every day, during his week. It essentially becomes a way to argue that uneventful is not equivalent to boring.
Outside of what the film has to offer thematically, there are talents abound in what is being seen. Driver, who can be typically defined by his volatile nature, disarms himself of this quality to play a kind-hearted and quiet man, with no sense of frustration. Even as a bus driver, Paterson is patient, which Driver excels at bringing out, in addition to other qualities that requires little in the way of showiness. The supporting cast is strong as well, providing enough to serve as the typically colorful set of players to balance out what we see in a Jarmusch film. Farahani, in particular, does plenty to bring out her character’s quirks in ways that feel natural, let alone enough to convey why she would be with Paterson. Enough also can’t be said about Marvin, the couple’s disgruntled dog played by the late Nellie.
Stylistically, this is most certainly a Jarmusch film. Continuing to feel like a less involved Tim Burton or Wes Anderson, there is a reason to the costumes and settings for these characters, but rarely done in a way to call too much attention to itself, save for the black & white design love that Laura has. More notable is the degree of emphasis Jarmusch puts on filming the city of Paterson. We watch Paterson walk and drive his way through the area, in addition to the focus he has on the famous Great Falls of the Passaic. To say more would just be describing how the film does what it does, but the visual poetry is unassuming in the same way Paterson’s written poetry functions.
Filtered through the mind of Paterson, the film presents a story somewhat episodic in approach, but engaging as we see events unfold in a familiar pattern. The through line is the poetic work of Paterson, which he holds close to his chest. Fortunately for the audience, we experience the words he chooses not to express out loud and match that with the observations of life he takes in daily. There is a clear level of control the auteur has in his style that has not failed him creatively. Jarmusch has accomplished another existential examination of an interesting character and Driver has done excellent work to give that character a soul. Slow or not, uneventful or not, the words on the screen did plenty for me to appreciate this poet/bus driver.