Film Review – Paterson (Second Take)



He wakes up naturally every morning, to what his wife calls his magic watch, at approximately a quarter after six a.m. He caresses his wife and listens to her tell him of a dream she had the night before, they had twins. Before leaving the house to go to work as a bus driver, he sits alone in the kitchen eating a cup of cereal. In a bowl in front of him are boxes of matches, he grabs one and examines its lettering. As he walks to work, with an unsure voice he begins to form the first few lines of a poem entitled “Love Poem,” relating to the matches. When he gets to his job, he pulls out a notebook and begins writing the poem down, this time the same lines are repeated with assurance, until he gets to new lines.

In the film Paterson, this is how Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver living in Paterson, New Jersey begins almost every day of his life. He goes to work and drives his route, he brings a book entitled Lunch Poems to presumably read at lunch, and he often stops at the famous falls in Paterson where the poet William Carlos Williams was said to have been inspired. And in between all this he writes poetry.

Paterson Movie Still 3

Writer and director Jim Jarmusch tells his latest story like the way Paterson lives: simple, unambitious, and organically poetic; and all of that is kind of perfect. As if purposely devised as an antithesis to an otherwise action, superhero oriented culture of plot driven narratives, or dramas whose focus is centered on ambition of class gain. Jarmusch is notable for his disdain and lack of interest in ambition and stories that cater to the ideology of acquiring capital. Leisure in its delivery of pacing, the editing is anything but flashy and the camera rarely moves, giving static, lingering shots of a city passing by, or two people talking about learning to play a guitar, with often very little to no coverage cut in. Like with his debut feature Permanent Vacation, this is poetry in motion.

Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) is married to Paterson and spends her days finding new ways to be creatively active. Each day is like a new endeavor, whether it be making her own clothes, painting, or learning to play the guitar, Laura, like Paterson, is searching for expression in the little moments in between life. While Paterson finds poetry in observation, Laura finds art in movement. She dreams of being a country singing star in Nashville and talks about opening her own cupcake shop. And Paterson, with a new picture of her in his lunch box every day, writes poems about her that he’ll never copy, and walks her dog Marvin (Nellie) to the bar every night where he talks to locals like Everett (William Jackson Harper), Marie (Chasten Harmon) and Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley).

In all his films, Jarmusch has imbued a sense of place as character, both independently on its own and as nurturing habitat. The opening shots of Down by Law show rural New Orleans against Tom Wait’s troubadour angst, allowing Robby Muller’s camera to draw in architecture, human made and naturalistic. Here, from high above in the space of a bus, Fredrick Elmes’s camera captures a wistful yet economically insular world passing by in the urban spaces of the real Paterson. Driver’s reactionary and subdued performance fits stoically among the passing declining department stores. His acting seeks an inquisitiveness in Paterson that reflects Paterson’s search for documenting reality with existential meaning. Golshifteh Farahani’s infectiously joyful momentum provides a harmonious presence. Scenes with the two together, which compromises at least half of the movie, are made more mesmerizing by their individual scenes showing each’s search for creative expression.

Paterson Movie Still 4

Very little conflict arises, almost outright eliminating a need for plot structure. Instead, each scene is its own set of intrinsic values, entertaining to absorb the interactions as people seek connection with each other and themselves. Part of the joy here is Jarmusch’s eye for idiosyncrasies that praise the human condition. Whereas often these artifacts are presented as freakish delights, Jarmusch wants you to love his characters, in all their shades, just as much as he does.

The greatest strength here comes from the movie’s ability to capture the essence of creativity in the birth of thought, among the tediousness of daily living. Images of water flowing, coupled with Paterson’s thoughts, and little pieces of the outside frames around industrial life, all give way to the feeling of discovery and reflection when the seed of expression is planted. It’s refreshing something so subdued yet salubrious can give us a celebration of creativity while staying to a certain degree, conscious of the world Paterson exists in. Passengers on Paterson’s bus speak of anarchy, rebellion, unrecognized misogyny and Paterson’s place in history, while the other Paterson drives us around centers of communication: poetry in motion.


Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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