I recently deactivated much of my social media presence for the umpteenth time. This time I opted out in protest; it’s my response to the presidential inauguration and the increased vitriol that seems to spew from any and all sides. The public outrage is certainly the highest it’s ever been in my lifetime, and I am attempting to use discernment and patience to navigate it all with grace. When the amount of mental and emotional energy–as well as time–spent on social media and screens outweighs face-to-face interactions and concrete practices of compassion and justice, it should cause one to pause and reflect, and perhaps to pursue a different path.
Jim Jarmusch’s film Paterson follows this divergent path in its peaceful, soothing aesthetic and celebration of ordinary, everyday goodness. Paterson (Adam Driver), is a bus driver in Paterson, NJ who has also opted out of the social media world. He doesn’t have a cell phone or laptop, and spends much of his free time pondering the world around him and writing poetry in his notebook. Paterson follows the rhythms of Paterson’s life, the liturgy of each day as a worshipful celebration of the transcendent found in the mundane. The film is structured poetically, each stanza bringing simple ideas and images before us and allowing us the space and time to reflect and consider their complexity and value. As such, Paterson is an inaction film. Its unique strength lies in its leisurely pace and lack of overt conflict for its main characters.
Paterson is disciplined, but not in the sense of an obsessed perfectionist. He’s more like a monk, going through his own daily offices, moving steadily forward while remaining content and present. His posture is contrasted with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a beautiful and vibrant free spirit who literally paints the world in black and white. From interior design to fashion to baking to cooking to music, Laura leaps from one interest to another with whole-hearted commitment. She wants to learn how to play the guitar, so she impulsively buys one online. Paterson’s life is defined by routine, Laura’s by spontaneity, yet both are equally passionate about their art, and equally encouraging of the other’s dreams. I appreciated that neither character becomes a cliche–Laura is not Paterson’s manic pixie muse, nor are they at odds despite their contrasting personalities. They’re a wonderful couple to behold, and the film stands as a celebration of the goodness of marital fidelity and sacrificial love. “She understands me,” Paterson tells a friend at one point, and everything in the film points to this as true. While he doesn’t quite share her exuberant love for their bulldog Marvin, and her cooking experiments aren’t always appealing, Paterson genuinely has no complaints.
In a world where everyone is constantly striving to be heard, Paterson is quietly content. Whether a co-worker repeatedly grouses about the various minor injustices within his life, the local bartender shares stories about their local neighborhood of Paterson, or a fellow bar patron acts out due to his misguided love life, Paterson just listens patiently and responds accordingly. He’s a man who watches and listens; he pays attention to the world and he likes what he finds there. Then he responds with poetry. And it’s good stuff–the poems Paterson writes are genuinely affecting and well-crafted as they are jotted on the screen in Paterson’s warm scrawl. I found many of them to linger in my mind after the film ended, and a few lines brought sudden tears to my eyes.
The word that best comes to mind regarding Paterson is therapeutic. It was a healing experience for me, a reminder of the goodness in our world and the patience, discipline, and contentment that can be found in both the natural world and the worlds we create. This world is one filled with a variety of cultures and ethnicities, all recognized and celebrated without ever feeling like a trope or a token character. So many different ideologies are represented or shared, and there will be a certain character or conversation that will connect with nearly anyone. The film also brought a diversity of other artists to my mind–Wendell Berry, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Krystof Kieslowski, Olivier Assayas, Wes Anderson, Annie Dillard. They are diverse in their mediums and messages, but all do seem fascinated with looking deeply and intently at the world and responding accordingly. They’re all poets, in a way, and poetry can be curative. While I loved other recent films celebrating the ambitious/foolish dreams of the artist–notably La La Land and Sing Street–I think Paterson will be the film I want to revisit the most for its healing properties. I’ve changed my mind since posting my Top 20 films of the year: Paterson is my favorite film of 2016.
Tangent: this is a film where the MPAA rating makes little sense. There are exactly three usages of f**k in the film, with essentially no other objectionable or problematic content. Apart from those three words, the film certainly would be rated PG. For what it’s worth, it’s an R-rated film I could recommend a young teen or high school student to see.
In Ephesians, the apostle Paul claims human beings as God’s “work of art” or “masterpiece,” created anew in Jesus so we can do the good things God has prepared us to do. The Greek word translated as “masterpiece” is poiema. It’s where we get the word poem. I think Paterson–the man, the place, the film, the ethos–can understand that. We see the world about us, the people and places and smells and sounds and glory, and we may say, “aha!” We respond with the creation of culture, what human beings make of the created world, until we are done with our work and take a Sabbath rest to bask in the goodness of this reality. Hmm….
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5247022/