March 10, 2017
By Dana Jacks
Editor’s Note: The following is a review of Jim Jarmusch’s new film “Paterson,” centering on the blue collar life of a young bus driver from New Jersey.
“Paterson,” the latest entry from filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, is a quietly moving story, inspired by the epic poem “Paterson” by American poet William Carlos Williams. It appropriately takes place in the working class town of Paterson, New Jersey, and follows a young bus driver/poet -- also named Paterson [sensitively realized by Adam Driver].
Paterson goes through his daily rituals with a special kind of methodical dedication. Over the course of a week, we see the returning Marine living a civilian life - waking up, driving the bus, eating dinner with his wife Laura [Golshifteh Farahani] and walking his English Bulldog Marvin. But Paterson also writes poetry. In his notebook, during brief moments of solitude; behind the wheel of his bus prior to starting his route, on a bench during his lunch break, and in his study/basement at night. It’s a quiet life, but not at all a passive one. Is Paterson a bus driver who enjoys writing poetry? Or is Paterson a poet finding his way in this world? The distinction, if there is one to be made, hardly seems to matter.
The poem “Paterson” was published in five volumes between 1946 and 1958; and describes the town’s people, as well as the locale in which they lived and worked. Like Driver’s Paterson, William Carlos Williams also lived a dual existence. In Williams’ case, he was part poet and part pediatrician. The acclaimed wordsmith practiced medicine during the day and wrote poetry whenever he could. It’s interesting to note that Mr. Jarmusch chose a bus driver to tell this story. Even though Mr. Driver’s Paterson isn’t a doctor like his literary muse, he is responsible for the lives of the passengers on his bus and the pedestrians on the street. Safely moving individuals where they need to go, silently connecting to their personal stories, Paterson pays attention; investing in his work wholeheartedly. Behind the wheel, both sides of his essential nature feed each other: the public servant and the artist.
“Paterson” may not contain major plot twists, but subtle events do impact the protagonist’s life, as well as the special people surrounding him. The film also has a lot of humor, passion, and pathos. Paterson’s daily interactions with his dog and co-workers are especially comical because they succeed in capturing the universal struggle of work and home life [the heartbreak of a lovelorn barfly played by William Jackson Harper is equally sad and funny]. When Paterson wakes up in the morning and sees his wife asleep next to him, it’s a moment of deep adoration. While a chance conversation with a young girl about her poem is a moment of connection between two artists who immediately recognize each other. Whether he is in the driver’s seat, carefully navigating his way through New Jersey’s demanding streets, or being pulled on a leash by the mammoth Marvin -- we are with Paterson. Bolstered by a dynamic supporting case, the film celebrates the beauty in the simple moments of our daily lives and articulates the struggle in living them with grace. Throughout it all, Paterson continues to care, to drive, and to write.
Now Playing, Rated R, Runtime 1 hour, 58 minutes.