Plot: A bus driver writes poems when he and his wife and dog aren't busy dreaming.
"They were just words written on water."
What a beautiful look into the life of a pair of dreamers, filled with comically poignant lines, fun Jarmuschian dialogue, and even some visual humor. The story is as pointless and mundane as life, and the characters' daily goings-on are about as redundant and uneventful as you'd expect characters' lives to be if you have any experience with a redundant and uneventful life as a human being. You might guess that this is a dreary movie with characters who slouch all the time, oppressed by the weight of humdrummery. But it's the complete opposite as there's almost a quiet effervescence with this couple. Adam Driver's Paterson is completely content as an observer of the world, a guy with seemingly no aspirations and with an appreciation of those colorful everyday things that William Carlos Williams wrote about. Golshifteh Farahani's character--Paterson's wife--is content with creating in various ways, a woman who does have aspirations but doesn't seem like the type of person who would be all that bothered if she never reached any of them. You just get the sense that while some people in the lives these two characters find themselves in would feel sorry for themselves, be bored by the routine of it all, and probably wind up mopey, Paterson and his wife are not people you have to worry about at all.
That poetry though. Was it supposed to be good? For me, that was the most difficult thing to accept about this movie. Paterson's poems, which appeared as text on the screen as Driver read them slowly, contain good ideas but aren't well written. Maybe that's part of the point? Maybe that was supposed to be part of the humor?
What Jarmusch gives us for a story is structured in seven (I think) chapters, each detailing a day in the week of these characters. Paterson wakes up without the need of an alarm clock somewhere between 6 A.M. and 6:30, he eats either Cheerios or a Cheerios knock-off, goes to work, talks to a co-worker, drives his bus, observes things or listens to conversations of passengers on the bus, writes poetry during his lunch break, eventually goes home, fixes his mailbox, talks to the wife about their days and their futures, takes the dog for a walk, hits a tavern for a beer and some conversation, and then goes home. The next day, like a jazz improvisational variation, happens about the same. The structure forces you to pay attention to the tiny differences, make connections between motifs, and try to predict what direction--if any--this will go in. Nothing much ever happens until one moment where something that feels very significant happens, but Jarmusch still demands the viewer's attention and draws you in with the minutia.
I like how steeped in metaphor and symbols this movie is, and that's true even though I didn't really understand all the metaphors and symbols. Threats of dog-jacking, that lopsided mailbox, all the blacks and whites, a pair of shoes on the wrong feet, the character's time spent in the basement, a wall of local celebs (including Iggy Pop, of course), all those circles (including Cheerios or Cheerios knock-offs), a laundry free-style rap, various depths of beer, cupcakes, numerous references to twins, a pie made of Brussels sprouts and cheddar cheese, waterfall allusions, foam bullets. Is a character referencing getting his ass kicked in a chess game and then revealing that he's playing himself important or a quirky Jarmuschian bit of humor? How about Paterson's inability to force the dog to walk in the direction he wants him to? Or the fact that our protagonist is a proud Luddite? What about those conversations he eavesdrops on--about the boxer Hurricane, about a cute girl at a doughnut place, about an anarchist weaver? Or the poets Jarmusch decided to include in the script? Dante, Ginsberg, Emily "Fucking" Dickinson, Petrarch, Frank O'Hara, and, of course, William Carlos Williams are all alluded to. Is there a reason for that? Oh, and as any Jarmusch fan would have likely predicted, language differences play a role, too.
The movie is busy with ideas--some small and some large--but it never feels like anything but a simple Jim Jarmusch movie.
Like a lot of his recent films, this one feels a bit like a riddle, but it doesn't feel quite as fartsy or impenetrable to me. And yes, I'm talking about The Limits of Control. I guess that's because I could identify with the character a little more easily, a guy just digging the mundane rhythm of the everyday, knowing that so much depends on red wheelbarrows and white chickens and the deliciousness of the last plums.