After his short fieldtrip to the vampire universe, to which Jim Jarmusch had gained a lot of new fans, but, at the same time, let his old ones down, I’m thrilled to see him returning to his signature domain. Back in the 1980s young Jarmusch was one of the leaders of the modern American independent cinema. He created such a specific, impeccable style, following the footsteps of his role model John Cassavetes and mentor Wim Wenders. With a minimal budget and some lousy camera work, his prime focus was to put those little lives, those characters usually invisible and unimportant to the cinematic eye, on the spot. His heroes were you and me; they had no superpowers, their lives weren’t exciting, they were just tourists, taxi drivers, small-time gamblers, immigrants, local drunks and lowlifes. What Jarmusch wanted was to find beauty in the everyday life, and a rhythm in the routine. And with Paterson (2016), he did it, all over again.
Paterson is not only Jarmusch’s stylistic return to his roots, but it brings out the forgotten motives behind the emergence of the whole contemporary indie movement in the West. An aspiring poet driving a bus (Adam Driver) is exactly what the theatres need to be showing somewhere between all the Jennifer Lawrence’s and Chris Pratt’s saving of the earth/mankind/galaxy. The exact same point was made by casting Driver, who, as we all know, plays the ultimate villain in one of the most culturally significant fantasy movie sagas of our time, as a completely normal, unforgettably forgettable character, writing poems about matches. It is a dose of realism – a movie that hits so close to home, way, way to close (heck, my dog also ate my secret poetry notebook). And at the same time, it discloses just how incredibly far the universe, in which popular Hollywood movies reside, is from our own one.
There’s also a persistent nostalgic feel about the movie, however it’s not the collective, but the director’s nostalgia we witness. The mise-en-scène, those buildings so tightly pressed to one another, the brick walls, neon signs and millions upon millions of wires hanging above people’s heads remind us of towns depicted in Stranger than Paradise (1984) and Night on Earth (1994), while Method Man’s cameo in a winter hat is a direct reference to Giancarlo Esposito’s role of Yoyo. The only thing that was missing (though I kept hearing it in my mind while watching) was a striking Tom Waits melody in the background.
Paterson is not Jarmusch’s best work, it may not even be in my top 5, but it’s just so exciting to see him still pushing his old ideas, the unified glorification and critique of the everyday life, in the centre stage. The characters stuck in their routines and their small towns, with big dreams but no way to achieve them or to escape the reality they were born into, the pleasurable small talks and insignificant stories they tell each other, just feel so good to watch, because it’s their comfort zone you’re seeing, and, terrifyingly enough, it is exactly your own.