Arts & Culture

‘Paterson’ finds the extraordinary in the ordinary

Golshifteh Farahani and Adam Driver in ‘Paterson’
Golshifteh Farahani and Adam Driver in ‘Paterson’

Paterson is the title of the new movie by writer-director Jim Jarmusch. The story is set in the town of Paterson, N.J. The central character is also named Paterson (Adam Driver). He is a bus driver. He gets up every morning around 6:15, has breakfast and goes to work. He also writes poetry. He scribbles it in a journal he carries around with him. He writes during his lunch break, or in the little window of time before his shift starts. Sometimes he will write a poem about a box of matchsticks. Sometimes he will write about the weather.

Paterson lives with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). She is an artist who loves to paint black-and-white patterns. She makes delicious cupcakes. She wants to learn to play the guitar and become a country music star.

Every day, Paterson comes home from work and has dinner with Laura. She is not a particularly gifted cook, but Paterson eats whatever she makes as if it were delicious. Then he takes their pet bulldog Marvin for a walk. Marvin doesn’t seem to like Paterson much. The dog often appears to be glaring at him. But you can’t tell for sure, because dogs don’t speak. Before the movie is over, you will know for sure exactly how Marvin feels about Paterson.

During their nightly walk, Paterson takes Marvin to a nearby bar and leaves him outside and pops in for a beer. Paterson chats with the bartender, Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), who is almost always in a talkative mood. Sometimes he talks to other people at the bar, too. Then he goes home.

Paterson unfolds over the course of a week. We become familiar with Paterson’s daily routine, so whenever something unusual happens, it seems like a big deal. Paterson eavesdrops on the random conversations of his passengers. Sometimes they talk about mundane things. Sometimes they talk about world history.

One day the bus breaks down and Paterson has to calmly evacuate his passengers and wait for another bus to come pick them up. Laura buys a guitar online, which she promptly paints black and white. One night, Paterson and Laura go to the movies to see 1932’s Island of Lost Souls. Laura is completely taken by the film. Paterson looks around the darkened theater and studies people, their faces illuminated by the light emanating from the movie screen.

William Carlos Williams was a famous writer who was born in New Jersey and wrote an epic-length poem, Paterson, that was published in five volumes over the span of 12 years. The third volume won the first National Book Award for Poetry in 1950. In his best movies (Only Lovers Left Alive, Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law), Jarmusch also achieves a gentle, beautiful poetry that relies primarily on observation, curiosity and absurdist humor.

Paterson might be the most minimalist film Jarmusch has made, which says a lot considering he also made Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Dead Man and Coffee and Cigarettes. The movie is quiet and serene, but it stirs and inspires and amuses. In the small details of an ordinary life, Jarmusch finds wells of beauty and empathy.

The movie is an exploration of the deep pleasures of creativity. Making art — no matter the form — is an essential part of what makes us human. Or would you rather be a fish?

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas


(out of five)

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Method Man

Rated: R (strong language)

Running time: 118 min.