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Dear readers, I’m back! Late last Sunday my family and I returned from a much-needed vacation in the Ozarks of Missouri, a trip we shared with some dear friends of ours! Abigail and I met on Pinterest 7 YEARS AGO, and she came to visit us for the first time 5 YEARS AGO–but this was the first time our two families had ever met face-to-face. We romped through Silver Dollar City, explored downtown Branson, took (literally) breathtaking walks up and down some very steep hills…and Abigail’s mom changed my life by introducing me to the joys of black licorice 😉
But Abigail and I also had BIG PLANS for our “Chill Day”–AKA the day set aside for recuperating after our long road trips to Branson. We decided we would sequester ourselves in a quiet corner with a laptop, Amazon Prime Video…and Paterson*.
It should be fairly obvious at this point how we found out about this film and why we wanted to see it: Abigail and I are both unapologetic fans of One (1) Very-Tall-and-Endearingly-Awkward Midwestern Boy. And Paterson* is for Adam Driver what Doctor Who is for Matt Smith. Matt is fantastic as the abrasive Prince Philip, but after a few episodes of The Crown I’m ready for a strong dose of his sweet, energetic Eleventh Doctor. In the same way, Adam Driver can be downright terrifying as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo–but his softhearted, soft-spoken Paterson is a delight to watch.
This slow, soft film tells the story of a bus driver in the real-life town of Paterson, New Jersey. His name is Paterson and he lives in Paterson. It’s serendipitous. His wife Laura is a bubbly dreamer, cheerfully pursuing her talents in baking, painting, and music. Paterson, by contrast, is quiet and steady, but no less artistic: every day before he sets out on his bus route and every afternoon once he gets off of work, he scribbles beautiful poems in his “secret notebook”–poems of which Laura is incredibly proud.
These two are as different as night and day–to the point where my mom, who loved the film, wondered if the prevalence of black-and-white in the film is a subtle reflection of Paterson and Laura’s opposite personalities. Yet because these two share such a deep, steadfast love, their differences compliment each other. Laura believes in Paterson; Paterson believes in Laura. There’s no melodrama in their relationship, only trust and love. It may sound boring in a world of conflict-driven storytelling…but sometimes we just need a tale of gentle, mundane simplicity.
The movie consists of one week in Paterson’s life. Every morning he wakes up (almost) the exact same way. Every day he drives his bus, watching and listening to the people in the seats behind him. Every evening he goes home to Laura, who has painted shower curtains, baked cupcakes, learned how to play the guitar, and/or made dinner (which may or may not be palatable). Every night he goes to his neighborhood bar, taking Laura’s grumpy dog Marvin with him. And every morning it starts all over again.
It really is a wonderful life–but over time you realize Paterson is insecure about something. You can’t quite put your finger on it since, for the most part, he does take joy in his circumstances. But when disaster strikes and he loses the one tangible evidence of his poetic gift, Paterson finally voices his worst fear: when a stranger asks him if he’s a poet, he answers sadly, “No, no…I’m just a bus driver.”
But as Paterson’s new friend points out, even the greatest poets did other things besides write poetry. The important thing is that they continued crafting their words, even when the world (or their own emotions) told them it wasn’t worth the time or effort. This reminder is exactly what Paterson needs, and it gives him the courage he needs to take on another blank page.
Paterson’s self-doubt is deeply relatable: we writers often worry there isn’t much to show for our hard work. Equally relatable, however, is his other unspoken fear: that he won’t make much of an impact with his small, monotonous life. You only get hints of this restlessness through his facial expressions and a few throwaway lines, but it’s definitely there.
And yet in spite of everything, he does have an impact within his quiet sphere. He encourages a rapper at the laundromat to chase down the right words. He eagerly discusses poetry with a little girl in need of affirmation as well as a friendly, protective eye. He defends a young woman in the bar without hesitation–and he constantly supports his own wife and her dreams. He may not realize it, but he’s changing his small world one kind word at a time.
One IMDB review puts it this way: “Paterson is a man who is not looking for life to give him satisfaction but who brings satisfaction to it, a man who knows that satisfaction does not depend on accumulating things but in being grounded in who you are and what you can bring to the world. He comes to appreciate that poetry is not extraneous to life but that life itself is poetry.”
If such a description isn’t reason enough to see Paterson*, I don’t know what is. With the exception of a few bad words (uttered by secondary characters), it is a treasure–a small and unassuming one, to be sure, but a treasure nonetheless.