Review: Paterson

4 years ago
Aidan Johnson

Paterson is an independent film by writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Only Lovers Left Alive). Having been heavily featured throughout international film festivals including Cannes, Toronto and MIFF, Paterson is a quintessential ‘festival darling’.

Paterson’s story follows a bus driver/poet named Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives in the picturesque town of Paterson, New Jersey. We follow Paterson closely through his day-to-day interactions, ultimately coming to know him and his perspective intimately. Paterson, played with expert subtlety by Driver, differs from the typical male protagonist through his endearing introversion which ultimately translates as insight and perception. In fact, with the audience granted the ability to see Paterson’s world from his perspective, we gain the opportunity to learn about secondary characters with ease. Moreover, Paterson’s creative expression through his poetry is reserved, enclosed in his “private notebook”. In abject opposition to Paterson’s introversion is his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Laura’s creativity spreads from her textile work (which she wears) to painting to cupcakes to music. In fact, in demonstration of Laura’s extroversion, her work spreads all throughout their small house, whilst Paterson’s is confined to his small notebook. He internalises, she externalises. This is not to say that they are dysfunctional. Each has their routine and they are inseparable.

One of the more intriguing visual and story motifs of this film is its placement of twins. Throughout the week that we spend with Paterson, he comes into contact with several sets of twins. There is also a consistent discussion of separate entities sharing the same names, including Paterson himself and his town of residence. Additionally, Paterson’s favourite poet William Carlos Williams wrote a book of poetry named ‘Paterson’ whilst residing there also. This realisation accompanies Paterson’s eventual understanding that people or entities can have more than one purpose, with many successful poets gathering their inspiration from other professions.

Paterson’s strongest element is its writing, specifically during the scenes of dialogue. It felt genuinely authentic through its portrayal of a diverse range of people and cultures. Also notable is the depiction of lived economic hardship. Too often in modern cinema do we see the representation of living below the poverty line portrayed both inaccurately simply to emphasise drama. Paterson succeeds in seeing the greater picture, with low economic stances shown to not define characters. My favourite scenes were the bus scenes, with a range of different people conversing on public transport, from working-class people to students. I must also add that I almost squealed as I realised that two students riding the bus were played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman from Moonrise Kingdom. Sneaky.

What really sets Paterson apart is its apparent lack of plot. There is no inciting incident which calls for drama or tension. Rather, there is a drive which comes from the genuine care and interest in Paterson himself, as well as the community of Paterson, NJ. Everything about Paterson is understated, the beauty within the small details. Additionally, Carter Logan’s score is for the most part unnoticeable with the soundtrack diegetic in its embedding.

Whilst Paterson grapples with some truly philosophical subject matter, it is truly subtle in its execution and social commentary. Although I personally did not connect on an emotional level with the characters, the expert implementation of perspective and themes proves it as a beautiful piece of filmmaking. Lastly, the absolute star of this film is unquestioningly Marvin the English Bulldog. Unsurprisingly, I am not alone in praising the performance, as Paterson was honoured with the ‘Palm Dog Award’ at Cannes Film Festival.


Paterson is in cinemas across the country from 22nd of December, 2016.

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