“We have plenty of matches in our house.
We keep them on hand always.
Currently our favorite brand is Ohio Blue Tip,
though we used to prefer Diamond Brand.
That was before we discovered Ohio Blue Tip matches.”
So begins Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s newest film about a bus driver/poet named Paterson living in Paterson, NJ. Adam Driver (Girls, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays the titular character, with a superbly nuanced performance that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. The poems used throughout the film, all written by real-life poet Ron Padgett, are elegant, understated, and almost dreamlike. Paterson is a beautifully told, intimate story that contemplates the poetry that exists in everyday life.
The film opens on Monday morning, as Paterson wakes up next to his sleeping girlfriend. We watch as he goes through the course of his day, which includes writing poetry, driving a bus for the city, spending time with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), unenthusiastically walking his girlfriend’s dog Marvin (Paterson does not like Marvin), and having a drink at his local watering hole. After Monday concludes, the movie continues to take us through a week in the life of Paterson, the ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the poems.
This is a fascinating film; indeed. Jim Jarmusch, who wrote the screenplay and directed, is never heavy-handed in his approach. We get to know Paterson, the character, subtly. Yes, we read his poems, and we watch as he comes up with and writes them. But we also see who he is through his actions; the way he listens to the passengers on his bus shows us how connected he is to humanity. We know that he is a war veteran and that he is extremely proud of this, as we see a photo of him in uniform next to his bed. Yet he never once mentions this fact in the film. He loves his girlfriend. She is an artist, and not necessarily a very focused one. Her project of the day changes several times throughout the movie (from painting curtains, to baking and decorating cupcakes, to playing guitar) and through it all, Paterson is incredibly supportive of her dreams. And he does not like her dog Marvin, yet he walks him every night.
The poetry in Paterson is intriguing as well, including the poem above entitled “Love Poem,” an ode to Ohio Blue Tip matches, and much more beneath that surface. The poetry in the film allows us to get a glimpse into Paterson’s soul. He does not utter much dialogue throughout the film, but he is always listening, always taking in the world around him. The poetry is an extension of this, inviting us into his world, seeing what he sees and how he sees it. In many ways, Paterson is a love letter to poetry itself, with much of the film focused on Paterson’s appreciation of poetry and poets, from William Carlos Williams (probably best known for “This Is Just to Say”) to a young girl he meets while walking home from work who reads him a poem that stays with him. There is also a memorable scene between Paterson and a Japanese poet near the end of the film that will leave you thinking for days.
Adam Driver has been around for a while now, and he always steals the scene. He has had standout performances, some of them small but all of them excellent, in Frances Ha, Midnight Special, Lincoln, and many others (not to mention playing Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens). His turn in Paterson, however, will put him on the map in another way. He will likely be nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award, and this performance will undoubtedly open the door for interesting characters waiting to be played. He is subtle as Paterson. We often wonder what he is thinking—and because the movie features so much of the character’s poetry, we are let into his mind and his soul in a way that is normally not explored in a film. He has an even way about him that is perfect for this character, as he takes the world in and digests it completely before reacting to it. Several dramatic events happen in the film, including Paterson’s full bus breaking down on the street, a gun being pulled at a bar, and an incident near the end of the film involving Paterson’s book of poems. In each case, much happens in Driver’s eyes. We know he is going through an ocean of feelings, particularly in the latter two examples, but very little is said and very little is done. It is during these scenes, however, that he is at his best, as he attempts to make sense of the world around him.
Paterson is a terrific and endlessly unique film. It features the excellent poetry of Ron Padgett, and includes one of the best performances of 2016, in Adam Driver’s portrayal of the title character. The movie breathes and allows the audience to be an active participant, never pandering and never telling the audience what to feel at any given moment. Jim Jarmusch, one of the few remaining so-called auteurs left on the scene, has created an astounding piece of work that gets better the more you turn it around in your head. See Paterson as soon as you can.