Paterson

When I was a kid, I loved to go to the movies. Didn't we all? For some reason, I just can't recall much else from childhood with as much specificity, but I still have vivid memories from going to the theater to see Return of the Jedi when I was seven and Back to the Future when I was nine. I remember the headache I got leaving the daytime darkness of that Star Wars matinee feeling as if the lightning bolts from Emperor's hands had struck me as much as Luke and Vader, and the trauma I felt and thought was irrevocable when the Lebanese terrorists shot Doc Brown over stolen plutonium. I remember leaving theaters after those and many that followed with the convincing feeling that I'd just seen the best movie ever. I probably hadn't, and this is surely trivial in the grand scheme of the world, but those are indelible impressions from my childhood. I just enjoyed the experience: doing something with my parents that was out of the ordinary; they rarely spoke of art or music or film. Later, the excitement of growing up, being dropped off to see movies just with friends, then with girls, sharing popcorn and holding buttery, sweaty hands for the first time. (That one was Twins with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito; horrible movie, we saw it twice). 

Then there came a time when movies stopped being good. I doubt they suddenly became worse than what I'd watched as a younger kid, but somewhere I lost the feeling that I used to get that I'd just seen the latest, best movie ever. And I remember feeling that way sucked. And I think I slid into a disenchantment of sorts with film. I'd settle to watch them on tv, but years of life would elapse without going to the movies. The enjoyment was gone and I wondered if it would ever return.

Well, it has. Someday I'll write about how it changed for me. I can tell you exactly when it happened, and why, and which dear friends are responsible. It's a good story. But, it has changed and that sense of having just seen the latest, best movie happened to me again last night. Maybe, it's like DeWanda Wise told me two weeks ago that "art hits you when it's supposed to hit you." Well, Paterson hit me last night.

The film stars Adam Driver (The Force Awakens, Undercover Boss, Silence), who is rapidly becoming a top-five, favorite actor, as Paterson, a bus driving poet married to Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani. Yes, as her beautiful name suggests, they're of different backgrounds and that intentional choice does so much to make the story work. In fact, Paterson may be the only white, male, principal character in the film. Laura is busy and chases one idea after the next. Not in a flighty way (she finishes, make that flourishes at everything she starts), but rather as the fulfillment of her purpose, which she reveals to the audience saying to Paterson that, "it's so important to learn new things." Paterson, on the other hand is quiet; active, but in an observant way. He lives by routine and schedule. He lives days that for most would be unnervingly repetitive; Laura seems to never live the same day twice.

And so, Paterson is a movie about the interplay of routine and creativity. In one sense, doing the same thing every day and living by pattern as Paterson does could be viewed as a sterile existence in which the ruts of habit thwart creative thinking. The film reveals the beauty in repetition, which it suggests is not the antithesis of creativity, but the enabler of it. Paterson finds time within his routine to write and it's as if the regularity of his life's design fashions a framework within which he can create. 

The film is also a brilliant story about thought, about the life we can make for ourselves if we are willing to be responsible for how we think. In Paterson's co-worker, Donny, we see someone who reflects the common human habit of complaining. He gives Paterson a daily report of all that's going wrong in his life, of his perpetual victimhood. It isn't that Paterson's world has no trouble, he faces his share of difficulties — the difference is in how he chooses to deal with the situations he's presented. Paterson never gets frustrated with the mundane. To the contrary, he's curious about the world around him, interested in its details, particularly the simple ones. He sees the ordinary as a source, not a bother. He takes time and remains open to interactions with others and his life is richer for it.

I could babble on at length about how the cinematography makes you fall in love with Paterson, New Jersey, (yes, New Jersey, and yes Driver's character shares the same name as the town in which he lives), how Driver's voice is so perfectly suited for the role of a poet, reciting his poems at the pace of writing - the same deliberate speed of thinking - using acceleration, not volume, for emphasis, and how awesome Marvin is (watch the film, you'll know what I mean). But, what I love most is the love of Paterson and Laura. 

As alluded to above, they're very different people who live life in different ways. They have individual wants and needs and negotiate those as couples do. In many ways, they're going in different directions. But that's where their relationship's strength lies. Difference makes for boundless fascination. And they are present when they speak to each other, in fact Paterson doesn't even own a mobile phone, or any screened device for that matter. As busy as she is, Laura stops what's she's doing to hear what Paterson has to say.  And Paterson not only hears what Laura shares with him, he continues to see what she's said in his daily routines. That's being present for one another on a whole new level, and it's marvelous.

They know the importance of giving each other space and share mutual respect for the other's need for and approach to creativity. It's as if two day-dreaming children were married; remaining responsible as adults are, but they haven't lost the childlike sense of wonderment. They don't fear the other's capacity. Both seek to empower the other. They see the loveliness in their differences and understand what would be lost by demanding assimilation. Such a refreshing contrast from the trite and flawed 'you complete me' neediness, these are two whole and complete individuals whose relationship soars because of the quiet confidence each brings and shares, and because they are deeply and genuinely curious about each other. "She understands me", Paterson tells his friend and bartender Doc, "Lucky guy", Doc replies.

Put simply, I love their love. It's a relationship rooted in reassurance and encouragement. The promise Laura asks Paterson to make is not about something she wants him to do for her. She wants him to promise to share his poetry with the world. She wants to magnify him, not confine nor control him in any way. He does the same for her; loves her for her natural beauty and she is certainly gorgeous in appearance, but just as much because of her enthusiasm, drive, and joie de vivre. She generates new dreams daily and though that sharply conflicts with his preference for routine, he brushes off any discomfort those differences could understandably cause and unwaveringly supports her in realizing them all. He chooses to see ways dreams can happen instead of reasons they can't. 


Though they operate on vastly different wavelengths, they continue to see the same beautifully simple details of life, both understanding the greatness that exists in the smallness. They focus on finding things to appreciate, choosing to seek what's endlessly interesting about each other, when most would find reasons to complain. They find familiarity in the midst of difference and celebrate it instead of fear it. They treasure these moments and while they don't live an extravagant existence financially, these are the instances that make theirs an abundantly rich life. 

My hope is that Paterson will hit you, too, in whatever way it's meant to, and that you'll love the ending as much as I did. I won't write a word about it except to say it's perfect.