- Paterson (2016)
How do you portray an artist? Is it a bold and provocative persona, or rather an outcast that accentuates their status by keeping away from people? No matter what image pops into your head when you hear about humble servants of the muses, Paterson will revoke your thoughts about the definition of an artist – and the importance of art in your life when it’s not necessarily a thing you do to pay the bills.
Paterson gets up every morning to follow the same routine. He wakes up and kisses his girlfriend goodbye before he heads off to work. He greets his supervisor, whose life is always a disaster, and after hearing the litany of his colleague’s problems, he sits down behind the wheel of the 23 bus to drive around the town that shares his name, listening to weird and wonderful conversations of commuters on the way. He comes back for dinner and speaks to his girlfriend about her new creative ideas briefly. He takes a dog out for a walk and stops by in a bar to chat to its owner and witness small-town dramas. He strolls back home and goes to sleep. He wakes up… and the cycle starts again. What makes the passing days bearable for him, however, is his “secret book”, where he writes down lines of poems which he comes up with before his shifts, on lunch breaks, late at night – whenever he finds the time.
The above could be, pretty much, the description of the composition of this film. It’s divided into eight parts – from Monday to Monday, covering a week and a day – and the conventional storytelling, that pushes obstacles in front of an unassuming protagonist, has touched this story very subtly. First and foremost, the plot doesn’t focus on pushing the main character into big challenges. Instead, the director Jim Jarmusch tries to pour some philosophy on the big screen and puts emphasis on small events that describe the life of an artist in tiny, but meaningful, contrasts.
On a motivational note, the movie shows how little the labels that the world keeps sticking on people actually mean: you can be an artist, whatever your job title is, the movie seems to say. And you can nurture happiness stemming from art if it’s the thing you truly love, no matter where you live and what situation you are in. The film doesn’t tease the main character or batter him down: he might be a bus driver, but equally he is a devoted poetry reader and knows his Petrarch from his Dante.
The dreariness and sleepiness of the film are increased by the cinematography – the shots with smooth transitions, sometimes with one image fading slowly into the other, and countless shots of nature mixed up with reflectional shots of Paterson’s surroundings, contribute to its dreamlike quality. When we pair it with the plot that doesn’t make use of a standard story pattern, we start believing that the world we see is somewhat an illusion; without any problems we can notice, conflicts to solve, hurdles to overcome, the reality presented by the film seems surreal, almost utopian. The quietness of the town is daunting. Nothing dramatic ever seems to happen, the sun appears to rise and set at the same, predictable point in the same exact moment every day, and there are no huge events to push the town to the surface of this bottomless boredom. However, that bleakness gets important towards the end, in another contrasting theme: a face-off of the motionless, fixed reality and the art that becomes the saviour of the creator.
The main character, played by Adam Driver (except the recent Star Wars, of course, he nailed performances in smaller but interesting productions like While We’re Young before) is completely disconnected from the world, too. He doesn’t own a smartphone, and the most advanced piece of technology he uses is a timeworn bus which he drives. Neither does he seem to be interested in anything else nor have big ambitions – he sticks to the monotony and safety of his predictable daily schedule. That can be tiring to watch sometimes, and as you start rooting for the main character, you wish for some sort of challenge that makes him wrestle with life for the ultimate success – although, for the most part, the dry, situational humour of everyday provincial life helps washing out the lethargy that the film imposes on the audience.
There is something peculiar about the relationship of Laura and Paterson: they agree on everything, manage to avoid quarrelling, and never seem to worry about the money either. But she’s not just a lost secondary character in the film, or a supportive puppet toy. Quite the opposite: Golshifteh Farahani, whom you might remember from her appearance in Eden or the main role in The Patience Stone, helps this colourful character to come alive. Unlike Paterson, she always has ideas about alternative identities she could thrive in, and understands how she could utilise her skills to follow one of her many dreams. She makes mouth-watering cupcakes and wants to start up her own baking business. She picks up a guitar, revealing a great voice and talent for music just after a day. She designs, paints, and always keeps herself busy. Because of her attitude, the indifference to mundanity in Paterson strikes us even more. However, it always seems that we hit an eye-opening moment during his interaction with another person: be it a schoolgirl, a couple in a bar, or a Japanese tourist.
The meaning of poetry, and art in the broader sense, has been tackled by so many creators over time that it’s difficult to come up with a new, interesting account of artistic attempts. Jarmusch, however, tries to slow down the time and imagine the world where the author curates his own rules – and stays happy, even if he isn’t getting recognition or understanding from the wider public. What’s more, it shows the role of creativity and art in our daily lives – and how the creative process can make your normal life much more beautiful.