Scott Wallace
18th Nov 2016

When filmmaker Jim Jarmusch made a cameo appearance in The Simpsons, he responded to Homer's curious "Who are you?" with the response, "I try to answer that question in my films." On the surface it's a joke about Jarmusch's consistently outsider approach to filmmaking, but it's also a very astute observation. Jarmusch's latest, the strange and elliptical Paterson, is his most existential search for identity yet, exploring all the possible dimensions of narrative filmmaking.

Paterson stars Adam Driver (HBO's Girls) as Paterson, who lives in Paterson New Jersey and drives the number 23 bus. He also has a fondness for poets Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams (who wrote an epic poem named Paterson set in the very same city) who he seeks to emulate with his own flowing, plain-spoken, but evocative poetry. With his live-in girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and English bulldog Marvin, Paterson lives a simple life with a firmly established routine.

Shake ups to this routine throw Paterson's life of balance, but there are no turning points, no second act and third act, to be an anchor for the audience. Viewers are lulled into an almost daydream-like state of mind as they watch Paterson's life roll by - waking up next to Laura each day, listening to conversations on the bus, walking Marvin, drinking at the bar - so that the odd moments of coincidence, reflection and recursion throughout are like seismic events in the slow-moving and lugubrious film.

One of the poems that Paterson composes reflects on the existence of more than just three dimensions - four, five, even six dimensions - and the film often feels like it is attempting to extrapolate on that idea. Paterson is not just the character played by Adam Driver, but Paterson is the city and the people in it both living and dead, Paterson is poetry, Paterson is a panoramic view of a life full of strange and beautiful moments, Paterson is a comforting presence. Whether the film's lofty ideas succeed is entirely up to the openness of the viewer to its unusual narrative construction.

In this odd, nebulous tableau, Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani are spectacular, evoking an utterly sincere romance that has reached a comfortable place beyond mad infatuation. The duo wring enormous humour from a script that is full of non-sequiturs and immensely nuanced moments that pass like a whisper. The supporting cast is also superb, delivering some of the film's most pathos-filled moments with a lightness and authenticity that transcends their relatively limited screen time.

Paterson is a film that rewards patience, and it has the potential to be immensely rewarding. Its humour and its beauty are more than surface level; they cannot be fully appreciated without giving yourself over to its quirks.Ultimately, it's a film that, despite its striking ambition, unfolds without self-consciousness into something utterly charming and intensely relatable.

Paterson opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday December 22nd.