Paterson: a Monument to Life

The mundane is a regular experience for the majority of us; we lead genuine yet insignificant lives. In Paterson, New Jersey, a bus driver named Paterson is an aspiring poet who observes more than he says. He sees the beauty in the regular and is fascinated by the banal. Over the course of a week, we follow Paterson through his routines: waking up without an alarm; a small bowl of cheerio’s; writing before his route starts and at lunch; an evening dog-walk and a beer at the local bar. Paterson is a master of reserve, slowly allowing the audience into the poetry that itself is a showcase of the slow-burn of life.

The risk Jim Jarmusch takes in Paterson is obvious: some will experience this movie as dull and dry. However, I’m reminded of a line from Walt Whitman: “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.” Patterson is the anti-yawp. A resounding whisper in the ear of the audience that we can be a bus driver; a welder; a baker; a poet. The drive for grandiosity leads us to worshipping dreams and disparaging our actual lives. But, Paterson asks us to breath-in deeply our experiences; even half-awake, morning dream-musings between lovers.

Dreams, though, are not to be locked away or left behind as we stoically embrace the meager and irrelevant. Represented perfectly by Laura, dreams are embraced with a passion as she approaches them with practicality. Dreams are a wonderful thing to have, but not at the expense of experience. She wants to bake cupcakes; play the guitar; be a mother. Laura and Paterson are the dual aspects of human life: the aspirational and the pragmatic. The final unfolding of Jarmusch’s masterpiece comes in the obsession with twins and doubles.

The emphasis he places on twins runs parallel to the repetitive nature of Paterson, and the use of twins serves two purposes. The first is directly related to the routine and humdrum of life. We all encounter familiar moments filled with clichéd people; falling into routines without appreciating our place in the world might leave us absorbed by the moment rather than ourselves doing the absorbing. The repetition of the twins is a cue that pulls the viewer out of the normal plot-driven drama of modern cinema and begs the viewer to notice the details and experience the film as it unfolds.

The second comes in the twin-like double of the Japanese Poet. Much like Paterson, the Japanese Poet uses poetry to pull significance out of the details. The two of them sharing a bench in the park is just a coincidence, but Jarmusch is not interested in claiming coincidence is meaningless. The purpose of our experience is not separate from it. The experience itself is the purpose. The Japanese poet says, “Poetry in translations is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.” Like translations, trying to experience Paterson by assuming an entirely foreign notion like value or purpose beyond sensation would be a disservice to Paterson because this movie is a monument to life.