For every cinephile, there is that one filmmaker than made you absolutely fall in love with cinema. For many, it was the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick, and while I respect these men (and utterly adore Kubrick), there was one other filmmaker that actually shook me into loving him films unconditionally, and as a result created a far deeper and much more meaningful sense of what a film could be, and allowed me to appreciate cinema in a much deeper way. That filmmaker was Jim Jarmusch, an utter genius and someone who is boundlessly creative, innovative and brilliant in every sense of the word.
To me, Jarmusch stands as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and someone who helped create the most important film movement of all time – the American Independent Cinema. Through his films Permanent Vacation and Stranger than Paradise, Jarmusch established independent films as something artistic, and that a shoestring budget can result in something truly beautiful, and that money doesn’t always make a good film. This sense of making films to tell a story rather than to make a profit has been an important part of Jarmusch’s career, and throughout all of his films, he’s shown the same humble filmmaking characteristics, resulting in some truly extraordinary films (and some of them star Tilda Swinton, which is even better).
Jarmusch has made so many different kinds of films – the aforementioned Permanent Vacation and Stranger than Paradise, simple stories of relationships between people. He’s made Down by Law, an offbeat and hilarious look at prison life. He’s made Night on Earth, a multicultural story about similar people scattered across the world, and Mystery Train, a multinational story about similar people finding themselves in the same city. He’s made Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, a quirky urban samurai film. He’s made Broken Flowers, a bizarre comedy about searching for answers. He’s made Dead Man, a beautifully acidic and bleak Western. He’s made Only Lovers Left Alive, an utterly romantic vampire story. He even made Coffee and Cigarettes, which is quite literally only about people sitting around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. The point I’m trying to make his in this very long-winded discussion is this – one never knows what to expect when it comes to Jim Jarmusch, and if his previous films are any indication, it is clear that the man is always on his own mission to tell a story that fascinates him. None of these films stand above the others as Jarmusch’s magnum opus, each of them unique and beautiful in their own way. Rather than trying to constantly make his masterpiece, Jarmusch seems to be composing a beautifully eclectic filmography that is diverse and unique, and Paterson is only the most recent addition. Now that we’ve finally reached the subject of this review, let’s discuss Jim Jarmusch’s latest masterpiece.
Paterson (Adam Driver) lives in the city in New Jersey that bears his name. He is a bus driver who lives with his wife Laura (Goldshifteh Farahani) and his dog Marvin. Paterson loves to write poetry. That is the entire plot of the film, without much detail left out. The entire story of Paterson is that of the titular character (or is the city the titular character – Jarmusch is nothing if not a complex cinematic philosopher) getting up every morning and going about his business – eating the same food, walking the same route and driving his bus as usual. There aren’t any major twists or plot developments, and other than showing small inconveniences and changes to Paterson’s routines, this film is simple at its very core. It is a film about a normal man going about his life. Far too many films about routine tend to try and show a huge change in the routine of the protagonist that is somewhat life-changing. There are small moments of change of routine or events that are out of the ordinary in the lives of the characters of Paterson, but nothing close to being as life-changing as one would expect from a film.
A film by Jim Jarmusch has never been this enjoyably and deliciously nihilistic since the 1980s, and he’s managed to return to his roots as a master of philosophical reflections through the mundanity of a normal person, and he does so beautifully. There isn’t a single thing about Paterson that is traditionally exciting at all – and for some, they may view it as a slightly dull film. However, I have to say that Paterson is one of the most exciting, exhilarating films I have ever seen, precisely because it is a film about nothing other than the very essence of life. So many philosophers (not only written philosophers, also the philosophers of visual media) tend to try and explain life as a huge, extravagant and outlandishly confusing concept that pervades the fabric of our existence and is far too grandiose for us to fully understand, when the truth is the best way to signify the complexities and beauties of life come in small and humble films like Paterson, which serves as a meditation on life and the simple sense of being. It just excites me to think how Jarmusch captures humanity and its complicated nature through the reflections of a single, insignificant character. If that doesn’t prove that Jim Jarmusch deserves a place in the pantheon of brilliant filmmakers, then nothing else will.
Jim Jarmusch has always brought out the best in his actors – whether it is a one-time performer (such as Johnny Depp, who gave a wonderful performance in Dead Man), or one of Jarmusch’s regular collaborators (Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Iggy Pop – the list goes on and on), he always manages to find something special in them and show it on screen. Paterson doesn’t see any of Jarmusch’s regular acting partners returning, other than Masatoshi Nagase (who gave a brilliant performance decades ago in Jarmusch’s Mystery Train), and the lead roles are occupied by two of the most talented young performers working today. Adam Driver was catapulted from television character actor to full-fledged star, and has proven himself to be one of the best young actors of this generation. Of course most will know him for his performance as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, but for me, the epitome of Driver’s work is that of his roles in these smaller, independent movies. Driver brings such unique charisma to the titular role in Paterson, and creates an emotionally resonant and beautifully constructed character that is unique and touching. Driver has never been better, but this just proves that he is taking his career to some very exciting places.
The other lead role of Laura is played by Goldshifteh Farahani, who is an actress I’ve utterly adored since I saw her a few years ago in About Elly. In Paterson, she is just devastatingly incredible – her role is just perfection, and she gives the character of Laura such a unique personality. She doesn’t go near the trope of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl that we find in films like this. She is a tragically beautiful soul, and someone who allows her artistic sensibilities to guide her life. She is so sweet and incredibly moving as Laura. Her performance is subtle, interesting and her construction of the character as both a loving wife and an independent woman is brilliant, and speaks both to Farahani’s excellent and abundant talents, and Jarmusch’s uncanny ability to write female characters that are not dependent on cinematic tropes or clichés. I was truly impressed with Farahani’s performance, and while she is certainly not a newcomer to mainstream films, I hope she becomes a household name, because she is extraordinary in Paterson.
I adore Paterson. It is an incredible film. Paterson is poetically and poignantly perfect, and it is the rare kind of film that speaks to your soul. Driver and Farahani are incredible, and the story is slow and deliberate, but beautiful beyond belief. While the core of cinema may depend on big blockbusters and attempting to make money out of franchises, I truly believe films like Paterson, and their genius filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, that make cinema worth watching. Paterson is an incredible film and an experience more than anything else. It will touch you on a spiritual level, and play with your emotions, and leave you exhilarated – and I think that’s a huge testament to Jarmusch if he is able to incite excitement and joy and melancholy into the viewer with such a simple story. But then again, Jim Jarmusch is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, so I’d expect nothing less from him.