In Jim Jarmusch’s soulful and reflective 2016 film Paterson, the protagonist, named Paterson, also lives in the New Jersey town of Paterson. And, he’s a poet who adores fellow lyrical wordsmith William Carlos Williams, who penned an epic five-volume poem called Paterson. Paterson also works as a bus driver – and he’s played to perfection by Adam Driver as well.
As these exacting and neatly intertwined details all demonstrate, Jarmusch is working to a very specific recipe with this meditative and quietly moving week-in-the-life character study. Writing as well as directing, he has chosen his ingredients carefully and measured them out precisely. Indeed, one wonders whether he would’ve even proceeded with this characteristically minimalist, observational movie had he been forced to cast someone with a different surname as his lead. This is a film about patterns, after all, and about repetition. It’s also one about noticing and valuing each and every aspect of life, no matter how tiny, as well as their relationship to each other.
That said, Paterson is an ode to finding ways to express creativity, too – whether in poems written a few lines at a time between bus-driving shifts; via a distinctive decorating scheme that spans home decor, outfit choices, guitar purchases and cupcake icing; or through cheeky canine acts of rebellion, both big and small. Jarmusch directs his audience to see all of the above as Paterson, his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and their bulldog Marvin (Cannes Palm Dog-winner Nellie, who sadly won the award posthumously) cycle through a seven-day period that couldn’t be more ordinary, but also proves extraordinary for that very reason.
As illustrated in Monday’s routine, most days pan out the same way. Paterson wakes shortly after six, leaving Laura sleeping in their bed as he eats cereal for breakfast and then departs for work. He walks through the town, taking in the sights and sounds, before driving the #23 bus all day. First, though, he enjoys his regular morning chat with his perennially stressed colleague Donny (Rizwan Manji), who always makes an appearance just as Paterson jots down lines for his latest poem.
Journeying along Paterson’s streets, Paterson listens to snatches of his passengers’ conversations, their chattering helping the minutes and hours fly by. When his shift is over, he makes the return walk home, once again soaking in the minutiae around him. There, Laura awaits, ready and eager to unleash an enthusiastic account of her day, including her latest career schemes and dreams, and the latest items in their home that she has painted black and white. Also lingering is Marvin, usually snoozing on the armchair that he’s claimed as his own.
After eating whatever dish Laura has whipped up for dinner, Paterson takes Marvin for his nightly walk, which always includes a pitstop at Doc’s bar (Doc is played by Barry Shabaka Henley). It also features an update on the on-again, off-again romance between Marie (Chasten Harmon) and the lovesick Everett (William Jackson Harper). Then, Paterson returns home, climbs into bed, and the cycle recurs the next day.
Even as each day seems to remain the same, things change, of course. Jarmusch establishes Paterson’s usual schedule, repeats the ebbs and flows, observes keenly, but highlights even the smallest of discernible differences. Some days, his protagonist has an unexpected conversation with a stranger. On one, his bus breaks down. Laura’s daily activities change, too, as do the poems that Paterson is writing and the situation at the bar each night.
In the process, Paterson serves up a portrait of natural order and natural variance, of tiny digressions within an overall template. To stress this to viewers, Jarmusch also provides an array of visual and narrative reminders, including more twins than you’d expect to see in one city, a slew of coincidences, and an array of mirroring and symmetry. After hearing a young girl (Sterling Jerins) recite her poem ‘Water Falls’, Paterson notices the picture of a waterfall on his wall at home, for instance. Paterson, the city, also happens to be home to a well-known waterfall.
Nothing is too small to escape Jarmusch’s meticulous planning in Paterson, or his purposeful effort to ruminate on life’s under-sung beauties – and to appreciate the little things. That includes Laura’s cooking, especially her Thursday night dish: cheddar and brussels sprouts pie. It’s an unusual combination, to be certain. But Laura came up with the recipe because Paterson loves both cheddar and brussels sprouts, so it still fits within the pattern of their lives. It’s her latest effort to be creative where and how she can, while sticking within familiar confines, and it couldn’t better encapsulate this affecting and insightful film.
If you’re eager to bake a dish to match, we have news. That recipe doesn’t exist on SBS Food, and possibly for good reason; however, mixing different flavours and ingredients is part of the fun of making pies. Perhaps you’d like to combine cheese with another left-field choice, such as apple. Maybe a savoury combo such as cheese, potato and onion or cheesy bean and cornbread pie appeals. Or, you might like to try Sweden’s Västerbotten cheese pie.
Whichever you opt for, we’re sure that Laura, Paterson and Jarmusch would all approve.
Watch ‘Paterson’ at SBS On Demand
Find the recipes at SBS Food