Director: Jim Jarmusch
Does the notebook make the poet, or is it the man himself? Echoing with the maturity of a veteran director, but exercising a formal proximity that plays out like a freshman outing, Jim Jarmusch has presented something wholly unique with his 2016 release, PATERSON. Following the methodical monotony of a New Jersey bus driver, Jarmusch explores the quiet struggle for comfort and happiness in a world that often forces one into compromise. It’s a tale of simple pleasures, one where ordering pizza for dinner is the greatest of victories. And so Jarmusch observes the ritualism of man, from waking up in the early morning to closing your night with a tall glass of beer. There is, after all, poetry in everyone.
My grandfather, a Romanian literature critic, used to argue that the most profound narratives are found in the everyman. His claim insisted that fiction was not a necessity for poignancy, and Jarmusch flexes this muscle to the nth degree. PATERSON follows its titular protagonist (played effortlessly by Adam Driver) navigating his titular city, a bus driver who spies on the subtle interactions of fellow working-class Americans in order to inspire the poetry he writes in his time off. But to Driver, his writing does not exist for financial gain. It is an externalization of the world he observes, a manifestation of his deepest thoughts. But not something anyone but him needs to see. It is, in the end, just words on a paper.
FKA Driver The Driver
It is here that Adam Driver finds himself at odds with his girlfriend, played by Golshifteh Farahani. She insists his art needs to be shared, and Jarmusch lets this quiet, patient conflict sizzle over the week that the audience shares with these characters. In doing so, Jarmusch’s film serves to make a captivating argument about the nature of artistry. The viewer eventually learns of the internal poetry of each supporting characters’ life. From the barman that plays chess with himself, to the hopeless romantic that’s in love with his childhood sweetheart, PATERSON expands into a more complex analysis of artistry. It begs the question why Driver is our lead role. As viewers, we come to identify him as an undiscovered genius, quietly writing away at his blue-collar job. But Jarmusch aims to remind us that Driver is no different from his peers. His only notable trait is that he took pen to paper.
Everyone in PATERSON is in fact a poet, that much is clear. But it is also here that I question Jarmusch’s integration of Farahani’s character. Despite inciting the understated conflict that fuels much of this narrative, she appears to be the only individual rather unhappy with her state of affairs, constantly trying to one-up the life she is currently living. This manifests itself in her obsession with selling baked goods, talking about becoming a country star, and constantly repainting her home. Her dissatisfaction almost goes unnoticed, and perhaps that’s the point, but I remain uncertain of whether or not she serves as an antithesis of Driver’s character or not. After all, she ends up investing in an expensive guitar and starts learning to play music, taking the proverbial pen to paper much like her boyfriend.
PATERSON: He was a poet, and he didn’t know it
But it’s also this odd uncertainty that makes PATERSON such a delightful film. I will concede that aesthetically, Jarmusch could have challenged himself just a little further. Although poetic interludes wonderfully cascade through superimpositions of a small New Jersey waterfall, I wish the film would have dared to be as poetic with its cinematic language as its characters are in dialogue. And although this borders into nit-pick territory, Jarmusch’s font choice feels wholly immature for such a well-seasoned filmmaker. But while its formal qualities occasionally irked me, PATERSON is a film of sublime intensity. It is wonderfully meditative, and never overstays its welcome. The elegance of its narrative structure cannot be overstated. It is a film for the poets in all of us.