A love letter to the ordinary life and its smallest details, and creativity for its own sake, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a gentle, meditative gem. It takes skill to make a film without a real plot, drama or conflict following a week in the life of a bus driver-slash-basement poet from New Jersey feel so engrossing.
Every morning, Paterson (Adam Driver) wakes up, kisses his other half Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), has the same cereal for breakfast, and heads off to work where he drives a bus around the streets of Paterson, his home town. He listens to snatches of his passengers’ conversations, some amusing, some deserving an eye-roll, then eats lunch near the city’s rather magnificent waterfall. Back home, he straightens their mailbox which goes crooked every day (we later find out the amusing reason why), and is greeted by Laura, who has a passion for black-and-white colour scheme and usually has some new creative project going on. They have a sweet, supportive relationship where each of them accepts another’s needs and peculiarities and gives space to their partner’s artistic endeavours. She’s as exuberant as he’s quiet and reserved, and her artistic interests – baking cupcakes for the farmers market, decorating, learning to play a guitar with an ambition of becoming a country singer – are directed outwards, whereas for Paterson his poetry is simply a part of his life. He has no wish of making a career out of it, or sharing it with anyone other than Laura, or even bothering to make copies of his work. In the evening, Paterson takes the couple’s cranky British bulldog out for a walk and spends time in a local bar, chatting with the owner and observing other patrons’ ongoing personal dramas.
Paterson’s poems appear on the screen as he reads them out loud, and are inspired by the simplest things like a box of matches he twirls in his hands while having his breakfast. In his daily routine, he runs into some fellow creatives: a girl in her early teens who, like Paterson, keeps a notebook filled with her own poems; a man practising rapping verses in a laundry at night. This quiet urge to just be creative, without it necessarily being a mean to anything, resonated with me quite a lot. Not being an expert in poetry, I couldn’t tell if Paterson’s poems are actually any good, but that’s rather beside the point as the film’s treatment of them is very matter-of-fact: it doesn’t act like they’re a work of unsung genius and the world is poorer for not knowing them, neither does it make fun of his efforts.
The notion of following the same daily routine onscreen for a couple of hours may sound like a tedious prospect, but as the matters of plot and suspense are discarded, it’s easy to fall under the spell of the film’s gentle pace and slowly become attuned to Paterson’s world, where the drama instead becomes about the routine’s small daily variations. Paterson himself is an unassuming, endearing character, a big hulking figure of a man who doesn’t say much but is always switched-on and observant, and Driver’s sensitive, understated performance is effortlessly watchable. Fingers crossed he keeps on getting quality roles like this, he’s easily one of the most interesting younger actors working today.