Jim Jarmusch’s understated, idiosyncratic portrait of small-town values in Paterson is a comatose, endearing siren. Luring viewers into a mindset of tranquility with safety and americana while all sorts of unseen horrors unfurl around them. Jarmusch carefully reconstructs the economical and social status consciousness driving Western civilization and likens it to a state of anesthesia awareness, utilizing the very philosophy that inspired it; fooling the masses into thinking that within routine dwells fulfillment.
On the surface, everything about Paterson (Adam Driver) is unexceptional. Just an average, homegrown American boy with the wool fully draped over his eyes. He represents the very bane of mankind, though. Living out his days, unwillingly content with a nine-to- five job, a disobedient pug and a lovely stay-at-home wife who keeps herself pre-occupied with busywork and arts and crafts projects whilst her husband is off at work, until it’s time to get dinner started – which’ll promptly be ready upon her lover’s arrival.
Paterson drives a local bus route during the week and apart from the odd story or two and straightening his mailbox, his days rarely stray from ordinary. However, Paterson does carry a unique passion, though it’s a rather timid pastime. Nevertheless, his affinity for writing and reading poetry is a scalding flame, visible for miles. Of course, like most people, Paterson’s legitimate creative aspirations rest noiselessly on the back burner as he stoically anticipates that they’ll simmer, boil and splash alongside the pot and put an end to the mundanity that has become his life, ultimately leaving his mark on mankind’s history.
There’s no question that Paterson is the breadwinner at home and if not for her emotionally and financially supportive husband, Paterson’s lovely wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and her almost hourly escapades would go unfunded, both in time and money. That’s not to say she isn’t contributing something to the relationship, what with her endless moral support, love, and daily decorative shenanigans that Paterson looks forward to halfheartedly boasting upon returning home each day.
Still, to be brash, selling a few dozen cupcakes on the weekend and strewing a few paint streaks across the living room curtains isn’t paying the bills or helping Paterson cope with his ever-creeping depression. That said, his wife’s unwavering, unceasing faith could very well be the only reason Paterson hasn’t put a bullet in his head,…but hey, we all need a rock.
Paterson’s poems are bestrewed across the screen correspondingly as he scribbles them down while sitting in the bus’s driver seat, silently cursing the arrival of his shift. All whilst underneath this long-suffering exterior there’s a storm brewing, brought on by unprecedented repression and an inventive eagerness that’s desperately craving to erratically burst forth. These poems, and their slightly off-kilter lettering, act like a smokescreen, masking the honestly dreary nature in every simple, yet achingly harsh and beautiful word.
Paterson’s poetry maybe comprised of trivial objects, uninspired observations and romantic inclinations spun in a quirky, almost humorous light, but these interpretations are immensely gorgeous and utterly disarming. You know what they say about still waters…
The world we inhabit continuously expels beauty, even if we choose not to notice it. Jarmusch does a spectacular job depicting the ironic, humdrum loveliness in everyday life, so much so that as the minutes tick by, we completely dismiss it to a point of almost missing it, which I think must’ve been his end goal. Whether it’s Paterson trying to stomach whatever bizarre concoction his wife has threw together for supper, Everett’s (William Jackson Harper) charming, maniacal prowess for grandiose love and grand gestures, or Marvin’s (the pug) numerous snicker-worthy reactions (used a little too frequently) to eye-rolling moments, Jarmusch’s Paterson, despite being a rather dispiriting picture, fundamentally conveys a message of finding gratification and meaning in existence’s simplicities. You know, stop to smell the roses and all that nonsense.
As for Paterson himself, Adam Driver’s monotonous, largely reactive turn is one not soon to be forgotten. This is a performance wherein the most satisfying moments lie in the subtleties. What’s most remarkable about Driver’s acting here is his ability to impart countless emotional shifts without using physicality. Visually, these complex feelings and beliefs are simply not there. Screaming to get out, Driver keeps everything bottled up, yet is somehow able to imply and forcibly extract these emotions not only from himself, but from the viewer. It all culminates in an incredible earnest and empathetic performance from Driver, a career best that cements him as one of the most exciting young actors in Hollywood at the moment.
Jim Jarmusch's Paterson, led by Adam Driver's skillfully restrained performance, is a brazing social commentary culminating in a harsh, yet beautiful truth.