The Duality of Existence in Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s Newest Film

Jim Jarmusch’s newest film Paterson is poetry for the ears and meditation for the soul. Here, our thoughts on the moving work of art. 

Great art has the ability to move you, take something away from you or return a piece of yourself once thought lost. Through genuine art, we step outside of ourselves and into the greater world, and once in this world we are left with the choice to either see things as they are, in a new perspective or in a way that reinforces previously-held beliefs. In Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s newest film, the viewer explores life’s inherently dualistic nature through conflicts that arise from a disconnect between our expectations and reality. Paterson makes the argument that identity, creativity and existence are two sides of the same coin and that because of, not despite, this dualism, beauty is able to exist. Through poems that capture small moments such as the details of a matchbox or rain falling from the sky, Jarmusch shows us the world that exists within the one we create for ourselves and how to reach that world in today’s technologically-connected, fast-paced society.

Jarmusch explores the dualism of identity through the person and persona, two beings that make up our public and private self respectively. These two selves are not mutually exclusive, but are layered like striations in rock that reveal the earth’s age. Paterson’s (Adam Driver) persona is that of a bus driver who walks to work, enjoys his job and loves his city; his person a poet in love with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and the events that make up his daily routine. As an individual, Paterson melds the two using poetry to capture the details that consist his persona, details that include his bus route, nightly walk with Marvin (his and Laura’s dog) and nightcap at the local bar, but also finds that, in moments, these selves are in opposition through conflict that never bubbles to the surface but can be seen in Paterson’s long, dreamlike looks of longing and curiosity at the undying possibilities his “person” presents and the limits established by his “persona” through factors that are both in and out of his control. However, unlike today where social media and the internet have set unrealistic expectations of the life you should be living thereby creating half a life lived as a persona without a person, constantly lurching ahead towards some tangible goal, Paterson never expresses displeasure at his job, in fact, carries it out loyally, or frustration at his routine which, if you live in a major metropolitan city, can seem a bit dull. And while Paterson may at times entertain the notion of a poet’s life, one in which he shared his work with others, he never acts upon that notion, an action that can either be interpreted as a fear of the unknown, lack of confidence in his work or, to us, an appreciation of things as they are and a resolve to capture their beauty through poetry.

Jarmusch also plays with the duality of existence in tangible and intangible ways, starting first with the film itself which is in opposition to the environment it was released in, an environment bubbling with hatred, uncertainty and fear. Set against the backdrop of today’s world, Paterson (the character) does not follow contemporary social conventions such as owning a smart phone, an independence whose representation of a slower life made wonderful by its details is a breath of fresh air. And much like a breath of fresh air, Paterson renews your vigor for life and leaves you walking away from that theater feeling connected to your surroundings, inspired to see the world anew and grateful for the small details that make up your own routine. Life’s duality is also conveyed through the appearance of a recurring visual motif and conflicts, small and large, that make every day something different and worthy of presence. Laura mentions the notion of twins one hazy morning and from that point, Paterson sees various sets of twins throughout his day, easily pinpointing them against a sea of other faces. In Zen Buddhism, Shunryu Suzuki teaches that there are two sides to everything: light/dark, hot/cold, action/non-action and so forth and that these two sides are not mutually exclusive but exist as part of the same whole. Identical twins are a visual representation of that philosophy: two beings with identical external forms made up of entirely different colors, each representing different things. This nature is also portrayed in the same way we handle our identity: through the events that arise from a disconnect between our future desires and the present moment through conflicts such as Everett’s unrequited love for Marie, Doc and a chess match against himself and the crestfallen expectations of two grown men as they ride the bus together. It is from the conflict that naturally arises in life that we are able to find beauty and expression; it is these exact events that consist the diversity that colors our life with character. Our ability to express that is what then makes it unique. Paterson’s life may be routine and simple, but his expression of it is so beautiful it becomes idyllic.

If life is conflict, how do we find meaning in it? Through creation. By finding beauty in the details of our life such as the feel of a worn flannel t-shirt on a rainy day or the smell of your significant other’s shampoo, we are able to create something from seemingly nothing and can take part in the minutiae that make up our everyday. In one part of the film, Paterson has a conversation with a young girl in which her last remark is, “Huh, what do you know? A bus driver who likes Emily Dickinson,” denoting the split between poet and bus driver, one Paterson understands as making up the two selves of his whole. And yes, while we all consist of two selves and the heartache that befalls us when our expectations aren’t met is no stranger to works of art, specifically film, what sets Paterson apart from other movies, what makes it the moving work of art it is, isn’t a highlighting of these conflicts in a way that drives the movie forward, action-wise, but an observation and acceptance of them in a way that moves us to accept ourselves and challenges us to see the beauty in our present lives. Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is one of the best films we have ever seen and one whose images and words linger on your skin like a dream. (The film will be released in the U.S. on December 28, 2016.)

*Feature image via The Playlist

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