This is not only the set-up for Paterson: it’s also an almost exhaustive synopsis of the plot. Laura gently pleads with Paterson to submit his poetry for publication, and he puts off doing so, but their relationship is consistently loving. There’s what might be an emotional crisis towards the film’s end, but it’s so subdued that it’s hard to tell. Otherwise, there are a couple of episodic and random incidents that have no apparent impact on the plot or Paterson’s life, non-events that only serve to make fun of people’s need for drama.
By director Jim Jarmusch’s own account, Paterson is ‘a kind of antidote to dark, heavily dramatic or action-oriented cinema’, and his film sometimes comes close to being twee. In Jarmusch’s version of Paterson (the city) there is no crime or racial tension or real danger, and all strangers are friendly or at least benevolent. Paterson’s marriage is devoted but lustless, his dog is naughty but adorable, and he does his blue-collar job with the contentedness of Postman Pat or Fireman Sam. Along with the voice-over quotations from Paterson's naïve poetry, it's like being read to from a children’s picture book, and the experience is similarly soporific.
But if watching Paterson feels like drifting off, then that’s what makes it interesting and, eventually, captivating. It opens with a lovely overhead shot of Paterson and Laura in bed, gradually coming awake, and the film never really leaves that woozy semi-asleep state. This is not just in terms of atmosphere or pace, but in its surrealism: the fact that Paterson lives in the New Jersey city of Paterson is the least significant of the several dream-like coincidences – more harmonious than uncanny – that occur throughout the film.
Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in Paterson
So even though Paterson is like Paterson’s poetry – appealing, plain, wistful – it’s more like a dream than a poem. Perhaps it’s the dream of Ron Padgett, the real-life poet (a contemporary of Frank O’Hara) who wrote Paterson’s free-verse musings? Or it could be a dream of Paterson himself: we know so little about the film’s protagonist, despite Adam Driver’s performance being so alive to nuance, his big knobbly features expressing small shifts of feeling. Perhaps by decoding the dream’s motifs, we can understand something of his inner life?
Or perhaps it’s the dream of you, the viewer. A reassuring hazy reflection of your limited but earnest creative ambitions, your disappointments and compromises, your desire to relinquish everything bitter. A small sweet reverie that starts fading as soon as it’s over, but which leaves a feeling that lingers for days.
|What||Paterson film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
25 Nov 16 – 25 Jan 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|