Paterson lives in Paterson. He drives a city bus five days a week for a living, and lives in a sweetly humble home with a tilted mailbox that he fixes upon coming home from work daily. His life is punctuated, rhythmic—mundane to the viewer but not to him. He dabbles in poetry, penning short unrhymed lines in crabbed handwriting. His life is spun from the fabric of what he overhears on the bus, about anarchism, getting a woman's number and other morsels of conversation. This seems to be the intent of the film, to give purpose to daily trivialities, to spotlight a poet who doesn't even like to call himself one.
The film charts exactly one week in Paterson's life, from Monday to Monday. On the weekdays, he follows the same schedule: pecking his wife on the cheek, rolling out of bed, eating Cheerios in a cup and then walking through an industrial park of derelict brick buildings. Each day, he pens a new poem while waiting to take his route, working on it again at his lunch break. He sits under the Great Falls of Paterson (yes, the same ones that Tony Soprano threw a drug dealer into), drawing inspiration from the same sight that brought William Carlos Williams to the city to pen his epic poem Paterson. And of course, Paterson has read and loves these volumes, keeping them close–by in a basement workspace.
Paterson's poems stream across the screen as he reads them aloud. He revisits them multiple times throughout his day, rereading what he's already written. He writes about his favorite brand of matches and the woman that he loves. This is, of course, his partner, Laura (played by Golshifteh Farahani), a stay–at–home dilettante. She is loving and supportive of Paterson and encourages him to share his poems with the home. Although flighty, she means well, adorning their house with black and white patterns, packing lunches for him and sharing her dream about having twins with him. While Laura has the capacity to annoy the audience earlier on, it becomes clear that she is the swirling and dabbling force that Paterson needs in his life.
That being said, Paterson also recognizes his need to be away from her. Every night, he takes Laura's bulldog Marvin on a walk, tying him up outside of a local bar. He goes in and has his single mug of beer, talking with the bartender about his life, all the while catching up on what his fellow patrons are up to. He looks at the wall of photos and newspaper clippings that string the wall above the taps, the musicians, poets and rising stars who've come from Paterson. They contribute to the mythical feel of this working class New Jersey city, a history that Jim Jarmusch deliberately nods at his direction and writing.
There's some surprising humor in this gray comedy (it's not quite black), as Paterson jokes about Marvin getting dognapped and listens everyday as his miserable manager lists a litany of grievances after Paterson asks how he's doing. Above all, the film has a tranquilizing effect, with such low stakes that the viewer is willingly convinced that it all matters. It is so carefully controlled in mood, that only one of the final scenes feels genuinely out of place. In fact, this blatant deus ex machina is the film's main flaw, the only thing that pulls the audience out of a rapt investment in Paterson's creative process.
It is not the purpose of the viewer to judge the quality of his poems. Adam Driver reads them with such sincerity that it would seem ruthless to try to analyze them. It is more for the audience to marvel at how the artistic spirit can grow inside someone so overlooked, a blue–collar American. And maybe then they will leave the theater and see this same potential in everyone.
Paterson is playing in Philly now at the Ritz at the Bourse. Check showtimes here!
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.