Film Review – “Paterson” (2016)

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This movie is only a spit away from being a complete irrelevance. It ends worthlessly – but right up until the dog eats his wretched notebook, the film is kept afloat by something quite unusual.

Driver, the protagonist, is so quiet and so put-upon that something must be up. Driver exists as the person to whom all the world’s things happen, rather than he that does things to the world; the reluctant flâneur. Indeed, he seems to have no say in his life whatsoever; his girl covers everything in their house with her Picasso-ish pattern – tangerines and shower curtains, and the spare tire on the back of their car. She uses his money to buy herself a guitar and sing him songs. It’s sweet, but suffocating.

There’s a reason why Driver’s character is called Paterson, like the city is called Paterson, like the film is called Paterson. The city, the man, and the movie lie atop one another like three translucent sheets of aspic; the light shines through them unperturbed. Such as it is, this film is a study in patterns; the thick tapestry of days, folding over onto one another, illuminating sequences, reducing a city to the beat of it.

Let us examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day… Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order with which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident sores on the consciousness” – Ms. Woolf.

Like the girl’s insatiable decorations, there is a decipherable regularity to Jarmusch’s universe, as if everything has its furrow. There is a marked absence of chaos in his existence. His girl dreams of twins, henceforth he is plagued by twins; he sees a waterfall, a strange girl reads him her poem about waterfalls; a dog eats his notebook, a stranger gives him a notebook.

It is as if Driver has been given the power to see the world from a great height, to see the crop-circle of the city, right down to the Fibonacci spirals in the coil of the freeway. Jarmusch uses the bus in much the same way Scorsese uses the taxi, as an operating-table. Driver learns the city through absurd little pellets of overheard conversations. The poetry he writes so naively in his basement, is like an old globe that he turns in his hands, polishing it in the hope he might find a coast or an ocean that he can recognise.

But he never does; each day he fails to notice the clarity of it all. In a sense, he moves about the city with a camera’s eye (note the frequent first-person shots). The camera sees without knowing, but in a funny way, seems to sense the significance in things. Though it understands nothing of what it sees, it is able to crystallise a thing; and not merely the thing itself, but the thing’s relation amongst other things. Shapes become the subject of rhymes. One reads the object as if confronted with it afresh. Like a photograph of a mountain becomes topography, or a face becomes a mug-shot, there is time to examine something held in celluloid that might otherwise whiz past ahead of itself, like a jet followed by its clatter.

Owen Neve

Comedy, Drama | USA, 2016 | 15 | Soda Pictures | 25th November 2016 (UK) | Dir.Jim Jarmusch | Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley