OP-ROB RATING: LEGEND
“Paterson” is an indie drama written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. To see it, I had to venture downtown to the E Street Cinema in Washington, DC. Just a few short blocks away from the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Trump International Hotel: all of the buzzy hotspots that were featured in this weekend’s inauguration and protests. I waited until Sunday to go downtown in order to avoid all of the chaos and jogged down Pennsylvania Avenue to check out the aftermath of the weekend. With the exception of a few signs and pink hats and a lot of trash, the streets were normally crowded if not a bit empty. By the time I got to E Street Cinema I was excited for “Paterson”, which details a week in the life of a bus driver and amateur poet named Paterson (Adam Driver). Ironically or perhaps poetically, Paterson lives in the City of Paterson, New Jersey with his beautiful wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their ill-behaved English bulldog Marvin.
Beginning on Monday, “Paterson” depicts a relatively routine week in the life of Paterson. He wakes up between 6:10 and 6:30 in the morning and promptly gets dressed, drinks coffee, eats cheerios and then walks down to the bus depot. In the average day, Paterson drives the bus route around the city sometimes thinking of poetry and other times listening to his passenger’s conversations. After work Paterson returns home to Laura and takes Marvin out for a walk. The walk always leads to a small bar where Paterson stops for a beer and chats with Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), the perennial local bartender. Afterwards, Paterson returns home to go to bed and restart the cycle. By all means it would seem that Paterson is a simple man leading a simple life. Yet, as only his wife Laura knows, he is a talented poet. Throughout the film Jarmusch inserts voiceovers of Paterson’s simple and beautiful poetry that he writes in his “secret” notebook. The turning point of the film occurs when Marvin tears up Paterson’s singular volume of poetry, which Laura had earlier implored him to Xerox copies of.
As with all Jim Jarmusch films, “Paterson” is unpredictable and doesn’t follow a typical narrative. In fact, the “turning point” of Marvin destroying Paterson’s poetry doesn’t necessarily represent the climax. The strength of the film is not in the plot, but rather in Jarmusch’s unique attention to detail. While many scenes don’t make much sense to the storyline, they force you to reconsider the meaning of the film over and over. While driving the bus Paterson listens to passengers discuss various former residents of Paterson, New Jersey such as the middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and the anarchist Gaetano Bresci. In the bar, Doc constantly searches for historical pop-culture references to Paterson, New Jersey to pin on his “wall of fame”. These scenes evoke the feeling of a forgotten city that never quite made it, remembered only by its last inhabitants. It’s ideas like these that force the viewer to listen more carefully to the plot points in Paterson’s personal story.
Ultimately, one of the greatest aspects of Paterson is the representation of diversity, and celebration of intellect. On one night while Paterson is walking Marvin, he stops by a Laundromat where a man (Method Man) is working on a rap song. Paterson stands by the Laundromat entrance and just listens, carefully taking in the man’s lyrics. To listen is to care, which is a great compliment. This human recognition is returned to Paterson in a scene after his notebook is shredded. As Paterson sits on a bench despondently looking at his favorite view of the city, the Paterson Great Falls, a Japanese poet (Masatoshi Nagase) joins him. The mysterious man asks Paterson various questions about poetry, seemingly aware that Paterson himself is a poet. Although the Japanese man cannot speak very good English, he and Paterson share a universal language. The Japanese man ultimately gives Paterson a brand new, blank notebook before leaving. The interaction is sparse, yet powerful.
In the end "Paterson" presents a lot of ideas. The more obvious one is that sometimes disappointments and even tragedies can lead to beautiful new beginnings. But there are other, more subtle notions throughout the film such as the double-edged nature of focusing on every little detail. Paterson is so viscerally aware of his surroundings that he can get caught up in them and miss the point, or become addicted to his own routine. After all, meaningful growth is often spurred on by change. In my own life I've had moments when I felt like my whole volume of work got torn up. I'm sure I'll have a few more. Starting from a blank page is never easy. However, as the Japanese man reminds Paterson, "sometimes an empty page presents the most possibilities."
And so jogging back to Georgetown through the remnants of the protests and scarce marchers that still remained, I had to reevaluate the grandeur of everything that had occurred just a day before. I had to question if we are all so numb-skulled that any kind of meaning has to be thumped over our heads for us to finally get it. Was anyone not already aware of President Trump's offenses or personal flaws? Did any American have a single doubt over the polarization of this election? It is movies like "Paterson" that serve as a reminder that true meaning comes in tidbits, day after day. Many people believe that historians will look back on the Women’s Marches as a watershed moment. Time will tell, but as the story presented in “Paterson” teaches, daily life has more influence. As a large-scale protest the Marches were unprecedented. But as the photos get lost in the Instagram feed and the headlines get replaced by new ones, what influence will the marches have if people cannot take their meaning into daily life? As a country moving forward with President Trump, perhaps we all need to calm our voices, and take the time to listen to one another. Sometimes meaning can come from the most foreign and unlikely sources.
 Cameo of the year so far