Paterson (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
21Apr/170

Paterson (2016)

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Paterson lives in New Jersey driving buses in a town bearing his name.  When he has a moment to himself, he writes poetry, which his wife encourages him to copy.  He promises her that in one week he will finally copy his work.  Jim Jarmusch wrote the screenplay for and directed Paterson, and stars Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

"They were just words written on water."
-Paterson-

Live long enough, and you might have the joy of knowing someone like Paterson (Adam Driver).  He's a person whose routine is happy, modest, and conceals a world of poetry he pulls from everyday life.  "Lonely as a cloud," comes to mind as Paterson watches the massive heartbreaks and tiny successes that punctuate our temporary existence.  If we're here to go, why not fill life with what beauty we can?

Paterson may be writer/director Jim Jarmusch's best movie.  This isn't something I say easily, but the light touch of Paterson's life carries so much weight and beautiful promise I can't imagine a time when Paterson won't stay in my heart.  Part of Paterson's success lay in Jarmusch's longstanding cinematic focus on the American Dream, the myth that attracts lonely people to our shores and sometimes expels them just as quickly.  The people of Paterson are not the gigantic success stories.  There are no Bukowskis, Ginsbergs, or Dickinsons here.  That doesn't make Paterson's words, or those of the people in his life, any less important.

Rapping for a party of one attentive bulldog.

That deeply human need for beauty and existential questioning about what makes us happy is key to Paterson's wonder.  Paterson is not a dreamer in the traditional cinematic sense, he's not someone who has grand plans for his writing nor is he one to even announce that he's a poet.  Jarmusch writes Paterson like someone who grew up painfully shy and quietly counts his blessings as they come.  An unnamed Japanese poet (Masatoshi Nagase, making a profound impact with little screen time) recognizes Paterson's love of poetry and the most Paterson can say when the Japanese poet reference's Paterson's favorite - William Carlos Williams - is a polite, "I'm aware of his poems."  Even in his love, Paterson remains humble.

Jarmusch's humility in writing Paterson extends to all the title character's encounters.  He creates pockets of existence where folks lead seemingly lonely lives they try to brighten up with their own brand of poetry.  Method Man, fulfilling the tradition of Wu-Tang Clan member cameos in Jarmusch films, plays an unnamed (though listed as himself in the credits) rapper in a lovely scene set during the dead of night where he tries working out a rap to himself in front of a washing machine.  The soundtrack consists only of the washing machine and the rapper's tentative steps with his words, trying out different syllables to get the best flow, all while he thinks he's alone.  The streets echo with Method's words as Paterson stands quietly against a wall just out of Method's view, creating a beautiful microcosm of art's power as two strangers share appreciation for the sound of one another's voice in the warm light of the laundromat.

Scenes like that fit in beautifully with Paterson's creative process.  Jarmusch finds an ingenious way to avoid the potential cinematic boredom of a writer sitting down to write.  Paterson wanders through the streets listening to the creative voice in his mind, which we're blessedly privy to on the soundtrack, before we see the words printed onscreen as Paterson carefully arranges how they should look to match the rhythm of his mind.  This gives us the double-delight of Paterson's view of life in New Jersey, wonderfully photographed by Frederick Elmes, and emphasizing the importance of visual layout with some kinds of poetry.  Jarmusch doesn't have a direct "this inspired this" approach to Paterson's poetry, and by avoiding that he shows how multiple elements of any life may be reframed to emphasize the beauty.

Chess at night, rappers at washing machines, and drivers curious about bulldogs. These are the things Jim Jarmusch sees when he sees America.

Then there's Driver's performance, which is so sincere in his shy happiness I broke into tears watching him smile.  Contrast how he is with his friends and coworkers, politely exchanging pleasantries and carefully shielding his notebook when someone catches him writing, with the moments he has with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) where he lets his guard down just enough to accept a compliment from her that sends his face into that beautiful blush.  Driver  does for Paterson what Forest Whitaker did for Ghost Dog.  Both string together potentially unrelated vignettes with a core of decency and hard work, and both bring the world to life with the smallest of gestures.  Whitaker's work in Ghost Dog was one of my favorite performances of the '90s, and Driver has accomplished the same in this young millennium.

Would Paterson's poetry be "successful" if he follows his wife's advice?  Maybe, but he's not the kind of person to want success.  He loves living his simple life, the quiet space he's made for himself to write, listening to his wife sing and play the guitar, and take their passive-aggressive bulldog out for long walks.  The American Dream is a myth, but with Paterson Jarmusch comes closest to understanding what it's really about.  It's about the freedom to live and create happiness in your own way without fear of judgment from anyone.

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Paterson (2016)

Screenplay written and directed by Jim Jarmusch.
Starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

Posted by Andrew

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