Paterson

Adam Driver in the Film Paterson sitting alone on a bench

There’s great satisfaction in watching a film that lives up to your expectations.

Sometimes a film just hits you right. Due to certain circumstances, it resonates with you, it sparks something. The effect can be even better when going into it without expectations.

When you press play with no prior knowledge or judgement and it turns out to be one you really like, the experience can be wonderful, and something that that feels totally personal to you. It’s rare but this for me is the best experience you can have watching a film.

Other times films carry weight with them. They come recommended, from friends, from reviews, from the hyperbole of the online film community. A fear grows that they won’t live up to expectations. They become almost unwatchable, like relics they gather dust on the proverbial shelf of films marked ‘to watch’.

I can be a fussy watcher. sometimes things have to be just right for me to want to watch a particular film. I know that not every film will give me this wonderful personal experience, but I want to give every film the best opportunity to do so. And I don’t want to go into watching a film unless I can pay it my full attention. So, when a film carries a certain expectation, I treat it with care. I’m happy to wait until the moment is right.

Adam driver walking his English bulldog in the film Paterson

Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Paterson’ (2016) had been on my list for some time but in my perfectionist mindset it too easily fell into limbo. Too new to have that lovely vintage 90s Jarmusch tone and not new enough to be favoured ahead of newer releases, the impetus consistently escaped me to sit down and press play.

Then, last weekend I saw it with different eyes. “Maybe another time” wouldn’t cut it anymore, I decided to finally give it the attention it was due. To my delight I had nothing short of a wonderful experience.

I like Jim Jarmusch. I like how his films manage to convey big philosophical ideas, without coming across as too wistful, sentimental, or lacking narrative.

I like is that his style is bold yet subtle enough not to be parodied or appear pastiche. Other directors (Richard Linklater, David Cronenberg come to mind) are equally as talented but less elusive. Jarmusch’s style is sometimes hard to find words for, and I enjoy this very much.

If there is such a thing, I think Paterson is the quintessential Jarmusch hero. A protagonist made in his own image. Paterson is an understated, kind man, someone with ambition but not in the entitled way you might see in other great American stories. Paterson is less egoistic, less concerned with manifesting destiny, more connected to the universe. He is almost faultless, but for the fact that he doesn’t quite believe in his own ability.

Adam Driver in the film Paterson writing poetry in his bus

Paterson is a bus driver and aspiring poet. He lives a simple life, seemingly with everything he could need, a steady job, a loving girlfriend, a loyal bartender. He writes daily, first in his mind reciting and making amendments, and then putting pen to paper.

Paterson is a version of the heroes from the great American novels. Wanderers, adventurers, thinkers, writers. Those who live inside their own heads. But with one main difference, he is yet to become one of these heroes. This is an origin story of a poet to be. What makes this film so great is that we’re are seeing Jarmusch’s perfect protagonist at a time before he becomes that guy.

The film takes us through Paterson’s weekly routine. He wakes the same time each morning without an alarm, we see his day at work, his dog walking at night, trips to the bar, moments with his beloved girlfriend and moments with his thoughts.

Responsibility interrupts Paterson’s day without fail. Assembling poetry in the quiet moments of his day, he has perfected the art of accepting the inevitable. He welcomes and handles interruption with stoic professionalism, putting his dreams to the side for a moment (An important lesson for anyone with pursuits outside their ‘regular’ lives). His work is not the most important thing in the world, being a good person comes first. The moaning co-worker, the dog desperate for exercise, strangers and acquaintances are all in need of his time and his kindness. He isn’t the frustrated artist with the world on his shoulders, he’s a man with dedication to his values. And when he is finally granted those quiet, secret, peaceful moments, he writes his poetry.

Paterson’s girlfriend Laura is original, supportive, ambitious, and consistently flaky. She leaves her distinct, if unremarkable style on all her latest fads. She is one part painter, cupcake baker, and aspiring country singer. She’s not afraid to start something new, nor take the next step to achieve her goals.   

Laura wants Patterson to make copies of his poetry with the hope he will publish. He is too modest to believe in himself. Not once does he refer to himself as a poet, he is a bus driver who happens to love Williams Carlos Williams. He would say It’s not so much that he doesn’t believe in himself, he just doesn’t feel ready to take that next step.

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in the film Paterson with a large collection of homepage hand painted cupcakes

On the surface Paterson is a gentle and pleasant film, but like Jarmusch’s best it contains much bigger truths. It is one part an ode to great American poets of Paterson, New Jersey. One-part reflections on the precious moments of youthful unrealised talent. You can’t help but feel Jarmusch saw something in himself in a young Adam Driver, whose subtle understated acting contains the perfect balance of talent and insecurity for this role.

I love the affect films can have on you when they stick around your head. I love when they don’t just stick around your head, but they change the way you think for a while. They stay with you on a walk, in interactions with other people. They inhabit you; they ignite things you know but may have forgotten. They leave something with you.

Paterson is a story about the self-discovery of an artist. If you’re a creative person, who’s ever questioned the validity of your own pursuits. Then this film may move you as it did me.

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