If you don’t like it slow, then Jim Jarmusch’s new film Paterson (which I’m not entirely convinced isn’t Adam Driver pretending to be a snail who’s pretending to be a bus driver) may not be your ticket. That’s not to say that the film isn’t enjoyable—it is, to an extent. You get an insight into a working-class man’s romanticised existence, which is full of nostalgia for the 1950s, but set against the contemporary hustle and bustle of neo-narcissism in the digital era. It just so happens that his life, and Jarmusch’s unravelling of it, are slow.
The man is a bus driver named Paterson (who ‘coincidentally’ lives in Paterson, New Jersey) and is played by Adam Driver. Each day Paterson wakes around 6am (without an alarm clock). For breakfast he pours Cheerios into a cup, takes his lunchbox and walks to work, returning home around 6pm. After he has dinner with his Iranian-American wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahan) he takes their dog Marvin for a walk; stopping at a nearby tavern he has one beer and walks home. This is then repeated for six out of the seven days that make up the film. He exists in daily loops where he drives passengers from one familiar bus-stop to the next. Without a smart phone or a laptop, he seems to evade the all-too-familiar trappings of a fast-paced and technologically progressive society. For Paterson, the anxieties of a consumerist culture are non-existent.
Surprisingly (although not for a Jarmusch fanatic) these cyclical days are endearing, they lasso themselves around you and drag you, slowly, through the beauties found in the daily grind of Paterson’s routine. The fragments of conversations that Paterson overhears as he drives passengers around the culturally diverse suburb of New Jersey are somewhat contrived, but they soften the long hours spent behind the wheel each day. From the sexist exchanges between construction workers to the historical preaching’s of a teen anarchist, these commuters on Paterson’s bus also seem to exist outside of the new technological void, which the Western world in particular seems to occupy. His passengers aren’t knee-deep in a twitter feud or endlessly flicking their finger down an unfulfilling feed on their screens. The commuters journey, like Paterson’s is romanticised.
The days are cyclical, but as it is with Jarmusch, this seemingly mundane existence is sweetened by Paterson’s secret passion: writing poetry. Each day he sits in his bus at the depot before he begins his shift and scribbles down the beginnings of poems, which appear on the screen in slanted white type-face, and are finished on his lunch break. Most of these poems are inspired by Laura.
Whilst Laura is a necessary character for the romanticised simplicity of the film, she too easily facilitates Paterson’s idealised existence. She’s extremely infectious and adorable: she’s obsessed with painting geometric black and white patterns everywhere in their house; her ‘dream’ in the seven days oscillates between becoming a famous cupcake creator and going to Nashville to become an influential country and Western singer. She’s not terribly bad at either of these pursuits, but she isn’t a terribly inspiring character either. If Paterson’s attitude towards technology is stuck in the 1950s, so too is his idealistic creation of a stay-at-home wife.
Everything is perfectly sweet in this film, with Paterson embodying everything that the modern American dream isn’t. He isn’t concerned with wealth, power or sex. He has his bus, his poems, and the conversations of the people around him. But it’s all so sweet, you think there must be a huge hidden cavity somewhere in his world. But there isn’t. Even when an incident occurs with the dog, Paterson’s life continues to roll from one calm and dreamlike Monday to the next.
Jarmusch is the type of director who would cut his grass with scissors, even if he possessed a lawnmower, but this approach and the idyllic, throwback world he has created here within a contemporary setting—shorn of social media distractions and monstrous volumes of life admin—yields a pleasant yet almost shocking experience. In that sense Paterson is refreshing and reflective, even if at times it borders on being overly twee.