PATERSON strikes me as AMERICAN SPLENDOR (the comic, not the film) for the beautiful people. The ones with artistic tendencies, who are old enough to accept the reality of a workday job but too young to be completely jaded about it yet. Adam Driver is no Harvey Pekar. Driver, a bus driver, goes about his daily routine, observing and absorbing life along his route — the characters, the conversations, the situations (like, being a driver named Paterson, driving through Paterson) — living a poetic life in every sense of the word.
(Spoilers near the end of the post.)
This film’s strength as a piece of art is that you’re able to project a little bit onto it. Some reviewers see this as a piece about a man moving through his poetic life, poetically, with a Zen-like focus on the infinite variety of subjects he encounters in his daily route. His passengers, fellow bar patrons, his artistic (if unfocused) wife and her dog are stops along his way which he soaks up and documents in his poems. And when Paterson’s life is disrupted in the one way it could be, he eventually comes to treat it as the momentary aberration it is, and his poetic equilibrium is restored.
I see something different, though. I see an writer who never publishes, chafing a little against his good-enough routine but with little reason to change anything. And when he pays the price for this life, which then offers him an opening to make a change, here comes the poetic Universe in the form of a magical Japanese man to usher him back. And Paterson does go back, willingly, into that prison and closes the door behind him.
SPOILER here, but I think it’s worth mentioning how this film was a lesson in establishing plot threads that aren’t wrapped up, but which totally works because those things aren’t what the film is about anyway. I was expecting a dog-napping, a smashed guitar, ruined cupcakes, a divorce, or a newly discovered twin. We get none of that, but it’s okay. Depending on your point of view, this is either a film about choosing to live a pure, artistic life for its own sake or it’s about condemning yourself to an existential hell that was ultimately of your own making.
Either way is poetic to me.