Anchored by an intuitive Adam Driver as a man named Paterson who lives in the New Jersey town of the same name, Jim Jarmusch’s beautiful film “Paterson” is, in its quiet way, as inspiring and revolutionary a film as you will ever see. But this revolution is for poetry, and while Paterson is every inch a poet and an artist, his life is nothing like the usual swaggering artist’s story.
Paterson is a bus driver who carries a notebook, and while he walks, waits and drives, he composes poetry in his head and writes it down. He observes the conversations of his passengers and co-workers, and writes poems about his wife and the minutiae of their lives — even a well-designed book of matches. Driver’s face shows us everything, and he misses nothing.
What I found so revolutionary and so inspiring was the intersection between his non-artistic job and his inner life; he is a poet, not in spite of his bus driver job, but because of it, or at least in harmony with it. The artistic fantasy of quitting one’s proverbial day job is strong with many would-be artists and writers, but Paterson and his wife don’t wait for the day when they can devote themselves to artistic pursuits. They live it already, and their life is wonderful to experience.
Just as Paterson’s poems are written in the pattern of his daily life, so is the film organized in a day-by-day sequence of an average week. Each scene and line of the film has been crafted and presented meticulously by Jarmusch, and is as poetic as Paterson’s poems when they are written across the screen. Paterson often references New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams, another artist of the mundane beauty of everyday life. Paterson’s poems were written by real-life New York school poet Ron Padgett.
Paterson talks with a little girl about their shared preference for poems that don’t rhyme, and he admires little internal rhymes within the structure of a poem she has written. The film has some wonderfully pleasing internal rhymes, too, like the recurrence of twins after Paterson’s wife dreams they will one day have twins. She seems to be a housewife, spending her days decorating their home in striking black and white patterns, learning to play the guitar and imbuing her own life with art.
“Paterson” is soothing and meditative; it captures the pleasing hum of domesticity and work, but doesn’t romanticize them. Adam Driver is too quiet a character for that. He is satisfied, but not overjoyed, and the only way we know how happy he is, is when he writes a love poem to his wife. The film is mostly uneventful, but one mishap threatens to end Paterson’s artistic calling.
The film’s final scene, as Paterson sits once more in front of his favorite spot at the Great Falls of the Passaic River, is beautiful and triumphant. Jarmusch has created a mode for living, in a world as carefully constructed as those of his past films, from “Stranger than Paradise” through the vampire world of “Only Lovers Left Alive.” The filmmaker’s choices and the film’s subject’s choices are so carefully weighted and so perfectly chosen that the universe of “Paterson” is one of deep and lasting meaning, and the character of Paterson is unforgettable as portrayed by Adam Driver.
“Paterson” is currently available to rent.