Paterson: The Indispensability of Art

Finally! My first Jarmusch! I specifically went to a cinema 30 miles away from me to see this movie. Well, I had a dinner later in the night in a place just 3 miles away from the cinema, so it’s all the same in the end. But if my friends were to cancel the dinner, the film itself is worth the trip.

Paterson is a look inside a week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver coincidentally living in Paterson, New Jersey. He lives with his artsy wife, Laura (Golshifteh Faharani) and his dog Marvin (English Bulldog Nellie, may she rest in peace). Paterson spends his days driving his bus and listening to people’s little talks, walks Marvin daily, and having a glass of beer daily in his local bar, owned by Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley). Among his daily routines, he would find solace in writing poems in his “secret notebook”, which topics range from life, love, to Ohio Blue Tip matches.

First, let’s talk about the technical stuff. In my opinion, this is the best Adam Driver performance I’ve seen so far. (And I’ve watched his grueling, emotionally demanding performance in Silence. And this Iconic™ scene from What If.) You better strip that stern, wicked Kylo Ren image of Adam Driver from your head – in Paterson he plays a man who is really in touch with his emotions, in sync with the world around him, and so in love with his wife, yet is so calm and observant in the same time. You won’t see this kind of Driver’s subtle acting in any film else (well, at least from the ones I’ve watched). Golshifteh Farahani plays the token quirky indie character who wants to break free from the constant routine of her life, in which this film locks these characters unto. She really embodies the vivaciousness, ambition, and optimism of Laura. The rest of the characters are mostly recurring characters or cameo characters, but it’s pretty interesting how these seemingly irrelevant people play a big part in Paterson’s life. Among them are a couple in the brink of a breakup, two “bros” in the bus talking about picking up women, and two students in the bus talking about anarchism in Paterson, NJ (played by the Moonrise Kingdom duo, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman).

I like this slow, fleeting film mostly because it is about art and artist and the fact that it throws lots of seemingly pretentious cultural references, but this film stays far from pretentiousness and is honest as it is. A film audience might associate greatly executed content about art creators and creatives highly pretentious (Birdman, ladies and gentlemen?) but this film is so raw in its real-life portrayal and has a really simple technique in storytelling that it strays away from pretentiousness. One of the examples is the fact that Paterson himself is a bus driver (in fact, I relate so much with the film since I take the bus every day) and is a part of the little, working class people who teaches himself art. He learns about his influences through reading used books and talking to people in his frequent bar, takes inspiration from listening to people’s conversations and being observant to the things around him, and creates art himself in his little notebook filled with poems. As he observes the world around him, we are taken through his perspective and Paterson welcomes us to observe his world as well. He takes minimum effort in interfering with the world around him (only stepping up in grave conditions), yet he constantly learns and picks up things from his world as a quiet observer. Through Paterson’s eyes, the audience can follow the tumultuous breakup of two of the bar’s patrons, who were once childhood friends who takes a shot in romance that ended up badly. The subplots in this film might seem irrelevant as we see them unfold, but they construct a startling comparison to Paterson’s own quiet life.

Paterson (Adam Driver) writes poems while waiting for his shift.

Most importantly, this film tells us about the essence of art in one’s life. Art plays a big deal in both Paterson and Laura’s life. Paterson uses poetry both as a mode of escape from his humdrum life and as an expression for his own feelings. Laura uses art as a vehicle to reach her dreams and to build her personal aesthetic. If art were to be stripped away from Paterson and Laura’s life, each of their lives would be hollow and meaningless. This shows that art doesn’t only matter to big production houses, college-educated creatives/scholars, or upper class urban citizens, but arts matter to even the smallest parts in society. (Hear that, Donald Trump?)

Paterson also shows how art unites people. In his usual bar, Paterson would talk about artists originating from Paterson, NJ with Doc. They would casually insert references to Shakespeare and Abbott & Costello in their conversations. There is a scene that struck me; Paterson is walking his dog when he listens to a man working on his rapping while waiting for his laundry to finish. He eavesdrops as the dog patiently waits and listens to the rapper. Through this scene, it is evident that Paterson found someone who has an interest in poetry (in this case, rap is a form of urban poetry) and lets art slip into the small crevices of one’s life (in this case, while waiting for his laundry to finish). Paterson feels like he relates to that person, and gives him a word of good luck. This shows that art can bring people together, even in an urban, diverse neighborhood. Along the film, Paterson finds lots of like-minded people whom he relates to, including a little girl and a Japanese tourist in two pivotal scenes of the film.

A great film about creatives doesn’t always mean films about big creators with big projects, or about washed-up big-name directors and actors. Paterson tells us that there is a creative in each and every one of us, and art will always be essential to human beings and society, and a desire to create transcends all societal limitations and is felt universally among human beings. Summarizing this review through a modification in meaning of a famous theatre quote, Paterson teaches us that there are no small parts, only small actors.


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