By Tanner Tafelski
A living poet is the protagonist of Jim Jarmusch’s new film. Paterson (Adam Driver) the man lives in Paterson the city—Paterson, New Jersey that is. He also happens to be a bus driver, transporting passengers here and there throughout the town. He is the town. The town is filtered through Paterson, who in turn idealizes it. Through the poet, who is aware of his surroundings, Jarmusch characteristically captures the nuance and intensity of moments.
Using a “week in the life” narrative structure, Jarmusch shows the private and public life of Paterson. He wakes up, walks to work, drives the bus, takes a lunch break, goes home, walks his dog, and has a nightcap at the local bar. And the next day, the sequence repeats. With each repetition, variations of events occur. We see the marital bliss between Paterson and Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). They understand each other, they tolerate each other, they love each other. We see Marvin, the peppy pet English bulldog between the two. Life goes on, changing, permutating, and remaining essentially the same.
Paterson plays to Jarmusch’s strengths: a “theme and variation” structure and an emphasis on communication captured in frontal two shots. Jarmusch gives good talk. This is as it should be since, after all, the main character is a poet. Paterson’s hero is William Carlos Williams, who wrote the epic poem named after the city. But the poems Paterson writes are actually penned by Ron Padgett. Snatching some free time before his bus shift, or during his lunch break, we see him jotting the first words of a love poem. On voiceover (aside from Gimme Danger  and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai , this is a technique Jarmusch hasn’t used since his first feature, Permanent Vacation ), we hear Paterson say these lines in a staccato delivery, as if they streamed into his consciousness.
Jarmusch’s aesthetic is more streamlined than usual. Paterson is more Broken Flowers (2005) than The Limits of Control (2009). This is not a bad thing at all, especially when he’s working with an exceptional crew. Adam Driver is self-effacing, contemplative, and romantic. Farahani is open, curious, and high-spirited. Her character supports, nurtures, and understands Driver’s—and the feeling is mutual. New Jersey native, Frederick Elmes, who last lensed Jarmusch’s Night on Earth (1991), Broken Flowers, and a section of Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), imbues the film with a soft, diffused light, especially as it reflects through bus windows. But the most quietly striking thing about the film is Affonso Gonçalves editing. His work shines during musical montages with delicious superimpositions that convey the sense of time flowing by as Paterson drives. Gonçalves is one of the most recognizable editors working in cinema today. Paterson is the proof.
Director, screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Producers: Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan
Photography: Frederick Elmes
Editor: Affonso Gonçalves
Production designer: Mark Friedberg
Costume designer: Catherine George
Cast: Adam Driver (Paterson), Golshifteh Farahani (Laura), Chasten Harmon (Marie), Barry Shabaka Henley (Doc), William Jackson Harper (Everett), Rizwan Manji (Donny)