Paterson: a ‘Cult Classic’ already?

Walking out of the cinema after watching this film, you won’t quite be sure just what you’ve seen, but you will know you enjoyed it. Jim Jarmusch’s latest endeavour to hit the silver screen, Paterson, will leave you questioning the elements that make up your own life. For this film, which already has ‘cult classic’ stamped all over it, is an exceedingly subtle polemic against avarice, materialism, and the consumer creed that supports them.

Paterson himself is a prophet of simplicity. Every day he goes through the same routine of driving a bus, taking his canine bete noire, Marvin, for a walk, then having a single beer at Doc’s bar. This routine is broken up only by the different conversations of the surprisingly large number of twins to be found in the town of Paterson, New Jersey, an everyplace for the modern world of small town decay; that and the strange mania of Paterson’s girlfriend Laura, who, it seems, is on a personal crusade to subsume every beneath her obsession for black and white.

Paterson himself asks for nothing. Indeed his contentment with his life of driving buses and eating cheerios out of a glass feels quite jarring. This is a man who has no ambition, no want, no curiosity about the world, nor any need to stick up for himself.

So when his girlfriend wants a $200 guitar for Christmas, in black and white of course, Paterson gets it for her, even though his tone says he can’t afford it. Indeed it feels like everything Laura has, Paterson bought her, whether it’s her phone, her laptop, tablet, or the huge SUV that she drives around in. Watching her at work is like watching a leech suck out the blood. You keep waiting for Paterson to flip and lit a match so she’ll let go, but he won’t.

[…] Driver delivers perfectly, though his performance is wonderfully complemented by that of the dog that plays Marvin.

Instead Paterson’s very lack of action, in response to any of the events around him, seems to be the message of this film. Although his asceticism, for while Paterson is happy to buy his girlfriend things, his only possession is the notebook in which he pens his poetry, is threatened by various events in the film, such as Laura’s pleading/nagging request that he make copies of his poems, or the breakdown of his bus, nothing shakes him from his convictions. Even after Marvin, his girlfriend’s wonderfully expressive bulldog, destroys his notebook, Paterson goes on about his routine, his wrath confined to a sullen comment of ‘I don’t like you Marvin’.

A lesser film might have botched its narrative at this point, but Paterson succeeds in large part thanks to Adam Driver. His performance as Paterson is as wonderfully understated as his character’s personality, and here, where a warm smile or blank look of grief must convey much the same emotions as a long rant might in another film, Driver delivers perfectly, though his performance is wonderfully complemented by that of the dog that plays Marvin. With his series of growls and barks, Marvin comes alive in hilariously vivid fashion, the nightly walk Paterson takes him on a curious ritual combat to see whether man or dog is in charge.

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Adam Driver, Oscar material?

While Marvin, or rather the dog that plays him, isn’t likely to win the Oscar for best dog (if only because it doesn’t exist), Driver deserves to be a strong contention for Best Actor, given the way he carries much of this film solely on his own shoulders. Even if he does not get his Oscar shot from this film, its success is largely down to him; a fact that speaks well for his future career.

By Gareth Wood

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