‘Unlike all other art forms, film is able to seize and render the passage of time, to stop it, almost to possess it in infinity.’ – Andrei Tarkovsky
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (2016) lives up to this impression of film rather obviously. It technically applies to every film from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona to Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, but with Paterson it’s highly appreciable – this quality of being able to render the passage of time. There’s something so inherently meandering about it’s storytelling, you can feel time moving slowly around you long after you’ve finished watching it.
Right from the start you know this is going to be pondering, without being poignant. That’s one of my favourite aspects of Paterson – the fact that it’s not actually that serious. The nature of life can be and has been argued upon, and it also depends on perspectives, but the relatively humorous presentation in Paterson is comforting. There’s something autumnal about the visual aesthetic even if it is most probably summer, that’s depicted. Every season progresses in its own way, but the calm laziness of the film seems to reflect the tone that I’d associate with fall.
Going into the film, I didn’t know it was about a poet, so when this unexpectedly beautiful poem started being written about matchsticks of all things, narrated by Adam Driver, it was a truly unique moment. The movie pulls focus towards the invisible magic in the mundane, but not in an aggressive or determined manner. It’s like instead of lenses, the film was shot from the eyes of an artist wandering in search of a muse, but not desperately, and rather just waiting for inspiration to strike.
The lack of a structured plot, simply adds to this lazy charm of Paterson. The scenic waterfall, which is truly mesmerising, somehow quintessentially sums up the aesthetic of the film. The rushing waterfall with its majestic life-force simply co-exists and in fact thrives in the lap of a quiet nook that is otherwise devoid of activity or noise. Laura has an enthusiasm about life that practically threatens to overflow, and she shares such a sincere and meaningful bond with the quiet and almost reclusive Paterson.
What’s most appreciable about Paterson is the manner in which it can open the eyes of anyone paying attention. The visuals are poetic, which suits the film. It sometimes feels so contradictory and almost impossible that the very world where harmful competition and war thrives, can be so magical as to sustain warm poetry. Or maybe it’s the poet’s ability to detect the life-sustaining nectar from the gritty reality. The process of pondering, and penning down poetry has been essentially given a visual expression in Paterson.
As the story progresses, we, along with the titular character notice the more obscure subjects that might go unnoticed to ‘the untrained eye’. The fallacy in that is where the film thrives. If we’re intent about our performance, we’re contradicting the very natural-flow structure that the film adopts. Most of the dialogue has no impact on the story, and sometimes, specially the conversations on the bus, they’re just there because that’s how real life is. This seemingly deliberate attempt to ensure a generic tone could easily get lost in itself, but somehow the work does achieve what it set out to achieve.
Even the conversations that do have a more observable impact, are written very matter-of-factly. This is what gives the film a comforting warmth. Due to the rat-race that every person is forced to participate in, to just earning the basic necessities for survival, comes a notion that everything has to mean something for it to be worth the effort. Paterson rather quietly shatters that notion. It seems to hold you and tell you that just being is okay, and every moment of your life doesn’t necessarily have to contribute to some big picture.
There are several things that get lost because they’ve apparently got nothing to contribute to this endgame that life’s supposed to be targeted for. Paterson has ability to interest us into looking for this lost magic. There’s poetry in everything we do, and it’s a shame that definitions and conceptions ruin that – art has to have a message, life has to have a goal, and so on and so forth. Just existing because we can and should, is as noble a cause as existing for a clearly defined set of achievements.
On top of the enthralling visuals, the uncannily engrossing conversations, the wide range of characters, and the minimalism in its approach, Paterson primarily shows an appreciation for the invisible magic in our lives. This appreciation is best expressed through the poem Water Falls, which explores the way poetry is pure self-expression at its core, just a way of viewing and relating to reality. The film itself is a perfectly executed project of expressing the power of life to induce deep emotions, even through apparently mundane things.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.