Every day for Paterson is exactly the same. And every day for Paterson is sublimely unique. Each morning, Paterson (Adam Driver) wakes up next to his beautiful, eccentrically creative wife (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani). He eats a single serving of cereal out of a coffee mug. He walks to his job, where he spends the day driving a bus around Paterson, New Jersey, watching little slices of other people’s lives as they cross paths with his. He goes home, has dinner, walks the dog, has a beer at a local pub, and goes crawls into bed, ready to do it all again the next day. Like most of us—even if we don’t want to admit it—Paterson’s life unfolds mostly as routine and repetition. But within those patterns, Paterson continually finds inspiration and beauty even in the most mundane of subjects, like a book of matches.
Paterson, the latest film from indie legend Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Only Lovers Left Alive), is a celebration of the creative impulse, and its ability to impart mystery to even the most innocuous of things. In Paterson and his wife, Laura, Jarmusch presents two different visions of creativity. Laura is a whirlwind of constant, frenetic creation—decorating and redecorating every corner of their small home with her trademark black-and-white patterns. She also has big dreams: She wants to open a cupcake store, unless she becomes a country music star first (just as soon as she actually learns to sing and play the guitar).
In contrast, Paterson is hesitant even to show his poems to anyone but Laura. She constantly urges him to make copies—something that becomes important late in the film—but he never seems to get around to it. While he might occasionally court notions of his poems leaving behind a legacy like that of his own favorite poet, former Paterson resident William Carlos Williams, for the most part Paterson writes for himself, and for Laura. He writes because he enjoys it, and because it helps give his life meaning, and because he can’t not. Jarmusch underlines this friction between pure creativity and creativity as a means to an end over and over in the film, such as with the “celebrity wall” in Paterson’s favorite bar, where the regulars gather and reminisce around pictures of famous Paterson residents like Lou Costello and boxer Hurricane Carter. In a world where fame is often celebrated as an end in itself, Paterson’s simple embrace of creativity for its own sake seems all the more noble.
The film makes wonderful use of repetition and recurring imagery to showcase how, in spite of Paterson following the same routine every day, each day nevertheless manages to be vibrant and memorable. This comes down entirely to the fact that Paterson is forever looking for those small, wonderful moments. Sometimes it’s a conversation with another young, aspiring poet while she waits to be picked up by her mother. Sometimes it’s the countless conversations he overhears while driving the bus. Jarmusch underlines his themes of finding unexpected beauty within sameness with countless little visual touches, from the recurring appearances by different sets of twins, to Laura’s own fixation on circles in her art. There’s so much of this, it’s truly jarring when, late in the film, Jarmusch begins to break those patterns.
Driver gives a beautiful, understated performance, one which proves how powerful stillness can be as an acting choice. There are whole scenes where Paterson is, on the surface, not really doing anything at all. But even when he’s doing nothing, he’s doing a lot. Within the rigid refrains of his daily life, he’s perpetually soaking in every detail he can. This is Paterson’s life, and it could be depressing as hell, except he chooses not to see the sameness, but all the little ways in which each day is new. That’s a lesson all of us could benefit from.