This movie gave me quiet, tender feelings.
The conflicts were muted, the love was pure, and in one important scene, the mere sight of a fresh notebook inspired an unusual feeling of warmth.
The film spans 7 days in the life of the title character and aspiring poet, Paterson. He wakes up each day to his “silent, magic” wristwatch with his girlfriend, Laura, snuggled closely next to him. He eats the same bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and gives a silent nod to their third wheel, Marvin, an English Bulldog.
After breakfast, Paterson heads off with his lunchpail to his job of being a bus driver for city transit. By night, he visits with Laura on their couch and listens to stories about her dream of the week — painting, learning guitar, or starting a cupcake business. His night ends when he takes Marvin for a walk and makes a stop at his favorite local bar on the way (Marvin waits outside, grumpily).
During occasional breaks in the day, we find Paterson sharing his poetry with us, the audience, a rare opportunity since we find him apprehensive towards sharing his poetry with others, even Laura. It’s in Paterson’s “Secret Notebook” of poetry where we begin to truly understand the world Paterson is experiencing, especially since Paterson himself has so little to say in dialogue form. A simple box of matches becomes an ode to his Laura. His daily bus ride becomes a meditation on metaphysics and existentialism.
The poetry is simple, yet layered and lovely. And in many ways, it reflects the rhythm and flow of the film itself. Scenes are quiet and reflective, often with no dialogue at all, choosing instead on one occasion to pan around the mumblings of a quiet bar and allow us to tell our own stories of the lonely people inside.
An avid movie-goer might expect Paterson to arrive home on day two — after the status quo is established — and find that his simple life has been turned upside down. This is especially anticipated after Laura whispers to Paterson early that morning that she dreamed they were going to have twins one day. But writer/director Jim Jarmusch uses Paterson as an opportunity to embrace the simplicity of a happy life and undoubtedly share his love of poetry. The film drifts by happily with only a few unexpected twists, representative of one’s typical life experience rather than an attempt to artificially surprise the audience.
I was most refreshed by the central relationship between Paterson and Laura. There’s little talk of conflict or misunderstanding. It’s clear from the beginning that these two care deeply for each other, and the film never strays from this central thread. Their dreams are celebrated together, and the climactic scene near the end is felt by them both (though they process the tragedy in their own, true-to-character-ways). When these two are together, we can’t help but feel at peace, and unusual feeling for a medium that’s built on conflict; it’s likely one of the only movies I’ve seen that breaks the film rule that all dinner scenes must devolve into a raging conflict.
In fact, some of the major household conflicts actually come from their dog, Marvin. He’s territorial of Laura and generally makes life a little worse for Paterson. Ashlee and I enjoyed a laugh when Paterson sat on the couch across from a grumpy Marvin in act three and said softly, “I don’t like you, Marvin.”
Paterson isn’t for everyone. It’s awfully slow and you’ll feel all 115 minutes, but it’s rewarding in its restraint. You might also find yourself appreciating the poetry of it all.