The childhood song line turns philosophical in Jim Jamusch’s routine-imbued film “Paterson”. Johnny Burke’s lyrics and memories of Bing Crosby’s rendition of “You Could Be Swinging On A Star” bring out the questions like “Or would you rather be a fish?”
We see the same questioning in our Paterson, New Jersey bus driver Paterson. The eponymous Paterson ( Adam Driver) has no need to associate with “high-status” individuals : he is seemingly content with his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani ) and his supportive community. He is a bus driver, but also a poet.
Doc, the bartender, ( Barry Shabaka Henley) serves him his one nightly beer, and a fellow bus driver colleague shares his daily litany of woes. Paterson has poetic sensibilities and keeps a journal with him to record his poems. Throughout the week, we see the day cordoned off and his poetic lines displayed in white font at the bottom of the screen.
For seven days, we view Paterson’s awakenings. Beginning with overhead bed shots, the camera records his routine. We see him checking his watch on the nightstand, old school-like. Paterson eschews cell phones and multi-tasking. One of the threads of this film is how being “in the moment” produces a joy for both self and for others.
Driver is very effective as the observant listener. We are with him as he takes up his lunch pail and walks to the bus garage. He listens to conversations, is open to new ways of seeing the world, and engages in instigating conversations with gangbangers and ten-year-olds.
The action is so low key that if you have seen the film’s trailer, you have seen all the film’s high points. There are no surprises, but the exquisite cinemagraphic compilation of Frederick Elmes as he gives us a shoe pressed to the pedal, a glass of morning cereal, a dog on his chair, and the reflections of dreamy clouds on the bus’ front window. The wide-angled turns lend the perfect sway to the transit sounds. Elmes’ “Blue Velvet” starkness is here, but softened. The city’s alleyways and grit offered up with its Lou Costello park and waterfalls. Its interiors sport Laura’s yin and yang black and white designs with a comic vengeance. The same house facades are dappled with light like Laura’s designer cupcakes.
This is the quiet, existential journey of an ordinary man who we come to like in the seven days we follow him. He retreats to the basement to read and write poetry. More concrete than abstract, his work models those poets’ works dog-earned and soldiered on his desk. Paperbacks of poetry by Ron Padgett, William Carlos Williams ‘ whose long poem, ” Paterson”, has the nomenclature to inspire, and a long line of imagist bards are scanned by the camera. No laptop is visible. All poems are written in a journal in ink. Dog owners will know before hand that this journal is in jeopardy. No copies have been made to Laura’s chagrin.
Not to worry, the moments’ molecules are many and vast. Like the matches in Paterson’s house, the possibilities of creating meaning from life’s very ordinary rhythms is what poets do. “Kisses that shoulder towards heaven” remind us that love and patience help.
Enjoy the twin citings, the rapping of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s ” The Mask” in a laundermat , and the Emily Dickinson scene with the young poet. The overheard conversations of teen anarchists are fun, too.
Petrarch, the 16th century sonneteer, had a lover named Laura. So the doublings continue to give a nod to fate. Add star-crossed lovers , a foam pellet gun, a spoiled English bull dog , and a Japanese tourist’s gift~ and we are back on track.
The repetitive pacing of quotidian rhythms and the underbrushings of ordinary life remind us of existential questions. “Paterson” answers most by patiently combining creative love and kind willfulness in our main character.