Paterson is the largest city in New Jersey. As early as the nineteenth century, it was always a melting pot of cultures. That rich, ethnic quality that was there from the beginning continues today. Paterson, with its large, Hispanic community, has the second-largest Muslin population in the country. It’s also the name of the new, deliberately slow-paced drama written and directed by Jim Jarmusch where it’s principle character is also called Paterson.
Known only by the one name, Paterson (Adam Driver) is a New Jersey bus driver. With just a few minor exceptions, like the bus route he drives daily, the pattern of Paterson’s life is pretty much the same, week in, week out. Though we never know much of his background, there are a couple of giveaways sitting on the shelves of his home. One; he probably likes buses – there are two vintage bus models, presumably from childhood, paraded on the bedroom shelf, and two; from the framed picture we see of him in his uniform, Paterson is a Marine vet. But if there are no other revealing clues of Paterson’s life to be seen, the one thing we know for certain about the New Jersey bus driver is that he loves to wrote poetry.
His poems are personal. His pleasant young wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) likes them and urges him to make copies, perhaps even present them for publication. He says he’ll do it for her. At the very least, he’ll make copies, maybe at the weekend, but as for others reading them, Paterson is not so sure. They’re not meant for others. They’re private, like a diary of daily thoughts and observances, meant for no one else except mainly himself.
Beginning with Monday morning, Paterson wakes up at the same time as he usually does, around 6:12 am, or thereabouts. He dresses, eats his bowl of Cheerios, picks up his lunchbox, and goes to work. As he walks, he begins to form a poem in his head; a love poem, where, on this particularly Monday, the thoughts and observations of an Ohio Blue Tip matchbox he studied earlier at the breakfast table lead to a conclusion of romantic love. “We have plenty of matches in our home,” he begins. “We keep them on hand always.”
During breaks throughout the day, he writes the poems in a private notebook, and everything around him inspires. He listens to the conversations of the passengers on his bus while observing their looks and appearances. He makes note of the people on the street as his bus passes by. And when he arrives home from work, he collects the mail while adjusting the positioning of the mailbox (for some reason – comically later revealed – the box always seems to be tilting by the end of the day), exchanges pleasantries with his wife, and finally takes Marvin the dog out for a walk where he makes an end-of-the-day pit-stop at a neighborhood bar for one single beer. “Right on time,” says bar owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) as he pours Paterson his glass. It’s the kind of small, corner, neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name.
And so it goes. Tuesday is pretty much the same. As is Wednesday, though Thursday he wakes nearer to 6:30 am, and on Friday he almost oversleeps. Though it may seem mundane, there’s a continual sense of fascination watching Paterson go through his day. In his world, as a small as it is, each little change of routine or each new character we see, either on the street or in that neighborhood bar, becomes monumental.
When there’s an electrical fault in his bus and the passengers are forced to disembark, Paterson’s routine is disrupted, and when at the bar one evening, lovelorn Everett (William Jackson Harper) pulls a gun on the woman who refuses his continual advances, Paterson’s Marine instincts kick in and he overpowers the guy. But the climactic moment, one that ruins the end of a pleasant Saturday and throws Sunday into a day of sad, self-reflection, is one involving Marvin the dog and an all-important possession of Paterson’s he mistakenly leaves lying around.
It would be difficult to say for certain what Paterson is really about or who its intended audience might be. As with much of Jarmusch’s work, you draw from it what appeals to you; elements that you think you see or believe the film to be saying, then discuss the possibilities with friends after a viewing. Students of film, and movie buffs in general, may find it of interest and enjoy the after-film debate, but mainstream audiences will steer clear.
There’s an overall languid feel to the well-framed, neatly shot affair, courtesy of cinematographer Frederick Elmes, that has little to do with the movie making style of today. In his slow-paced, New Jersey world of daily observations, the character of Paterson could well be an extension of his creator, writer/director Jim Jarmusch. Paterson’s poetry is personal, as are Jarmusch’s films, plus in the same way that Jarmusch ignores present day tastes, the bus driver shuns modern day trappings such as laptops, and has no use for a cell phone. “The world worked fine before they even existed,” Paterson says at the bar one evening. Both Jarmusch and his fictional character exist at their own, slow pace. They take notes while observing others, but remain at a distance, never involved.
Or maybe just getting through the week is what it’s all about. When Paterson bumps into Everett in the street and they exchange a few words about that gun incident of the other night, Everett concludes with, “Always another day, right?” “So far,” responds Paterson. And they part, ready to face another Monday. And it will probably be just like the Monday before.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 115 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)