Within those routines, the days begin to blur. Sometimes the hours within them do too. Jarmusch is a filmmaker who’ll give a life like this the room to breathe, who isn’t afraid to live in the mundane moments; he opens himself (and thus the viewer) up to the tiny dramas that are happening all around Paterson, the little short stories in those overheard conversations, the quiet desperation of the dreams articulated by girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) to own a bakery or sing country songs, the real stress in the life of his boss, who’ll run down his laundry list of current headaches before shrugging, “Just my burden, I guess. My particular burden.”
Those words echo throughout Jarmusch’s extraordinary film. This – and I hope I’m not “spoiling” this for you – is not a film that culminates in some tremendous success for its protagonist. His work is not published in The New Yorker, bringing him immediate fame and fortune. His poems are not discovered by some high-powered literary agent, who explains that his life is going to change forever. His life isn’t going to change, not particularly, and it doesn’t much over Paterson’s 115 minutes. We do get a sense that there are little annoyances and dissatisfactions in his life – but there are also comforts, and they’re not likely to be outweighed. There is a moment where someone mentions how valuable the dog is, and we think Jarmusch might be setting up some sort of third-act crisis, which he is not. Paterson writes his poems (“They’re just words, written on water,” he shrugs) and goes about his business. The shadow of William Carlos Williams looms large over the movie, beyond his explicit name-checking, and into the tone and style.
Which is not to imply that things don’t happen. In fact, because it’s so low-key, the quieter Jarmusch speaks, the more we lean in; there is a small act of drama, but because the picture is so modest, that moment lands with the force of a murder. And then, a little while after that, there is a gesture from a stranger – a simple one, but a moment that, by that point in this story, is bottomless in its resonance.
Paterson is a film extraordinary in its ordinariness, in its willingness to show us people like these, and to suggest that these will be their lives, and that there’s nothing disappointing or shameful in that. In one of its best scenes, Paterson and his dog are out for their nightly walk, and they discover a forty-something man (Method Man, to be precise) at the laundromat, trying out rhymes for the audience of his rotating wash.
“Your laboratory?” Paterson asks.
“Wherever it hits me is where it’s gonna be,” the man replies. Ain’t that the truth.
Paterson is out today in limited release.