Paterson is a bus driver. He wakes up at 6 am every morning without an alarm. He drives a bus on the same old route to return home to his partner in the evenings. Paterson is seemingly conservative and simple in taste and he never deviates from his daily routine.
Nevertheless, Paterson is also a poet.
Festival de Cannes entry Paterson (2016), led by Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani and directed by Jim Jarmusch, exposes banality of life celebrated through its little daily accomplishments. It is an exercise in joie de vivre, as well as portrait of the man uninvolved in politics. Paterson does not own a smartphone. Or a laptop. Or a tablet. He does not watch TV to catch up with politics. Every night, with clockwork precision, he takes Marvin, his English Bulldog, for a walk through town. He unmistakably stops by The Bar. This is where he is most connected with the world: The Bar and his bus, where people discuss random topics such as anarchism or their latest romantic quests.
Paterson represents the non-aligned citizen, the individual who might vote because his civil duty dictates it. He does not follow politics but has an instinctive drive to bring his contribution to the world. Small town debate and gossip do not interest Paterson. Rather, he takes pleasure in more abstract activity, such as writing poetry. In his secret notebook, he is a god who creates an alternative universe where politics does not exist. Where there is place only for beauty and nature. He is fascinated with and observes the city while driving around, then he translates it, as well as his family life, into beautiful poems which never find an audience. Paterson’s partner, Laura, urges him to copy his writing and constantly encourages their publication, but Paterson does not write for success. He does not seek to share his thoughts with the rest of the world, which may be a further reason why he’s not involved with the political debate.
Antagonizing him is Laura, his partner. She is immersed in everything new and shiny, loves having hobbies and cultivates new ones. She is engaged with technology and avidly seeks to be on top of everything new. She is the portrait of the political spectator who is constantly involved in the debate. She will vote, and she will also let everyone else know what she believes is right. She will use online tutorials to learn how to play an instrument. She would also believe in authenticity and would craft, paint and build. Her life is black and white, and so is everything in it. Including her cupcakes.
The movie is a cinematic delight in that it urges the viewer to cherish trivial things and constantly search and find happiness. It shows how one can disconnect from the material and technological and still be happy. It encourages self-reflection, authenticity and doing good without seeking validation. It also challenges our constant involvement in politics and our drive to criticise. In Paterson’s world, supporting others is healthy, but one can do this without getting involved. One can also reinvent oneself through art, he shows. When Marvin eats up the Secret Notebook, where all Paterson’s poetry rests, his art is not dead. It lives through its author.
The meeting which brings an end to the movie is masterfully created and gives the film a distinct note of originality. When Paterson meets a fellow poet in the city park, he receives a new notebook as a gift. Blank pages can inspire much. And diverse art.
Paterson chooses his battles wisely.