When did you last see a movie that reduced your pulse to the rhythm of creation?
How about this for a film pitch:
A bus driver dreams up poetry during his day job. At night he takes the dog out for a walk and stops for a pint. Repeat daily. End of story.
Yes, me neither.
So, it took some effort to commit to watching the movie Paterson, following its release in May 2017 on DVD and Netflix. The rewards unfolded gently over the following two hours with an hypnotic story that will stay long in the mind after the hyper-active, adrenalin-soaked movie staples have dissipated.
How is it possible to make a narrative like this so captivating?
On one level, this was a paean to the intelligence and aspiration of ordinary blue-collar working people who are often either patronised or ignored by the creative arts. The desire for self-expression and a sense of transcendence; the instinct for self-improvement, are persuasively shown. Paterson has ideas and he is searching for meaning and beauty in the middle of a prosaic life.
The film’s genius lies in its slowness. Paterson is unhurried and deliberate in his movements and speech, observing life with a poet’s incision. His conversation is equally spare; no word is wasted. In the era of over-sharing, Paterson is unstated. He has a loving relationship with the woman who shares his life, but in many ways they are contentedly alone in their thoughts and lives, offering subtle permission to each other in their creative pursuits.
Paterson watches the world at a leisurely pace, like a trick of the camera as someone walks in slow motion through a crowd of rushing people. He listens to his passengers, talks to the bartender and passes the time of day with a teenage girl who shares his love of poetry. It is as if he is living in a heightened sense of Epiphany, patiently waiting for life to unfold so he can behold its majesty. A week passes during the film and the viewer is drawn into its measured pace, like rituals of monastic prayer. Around Paterson are fraught and anxious people, burdened down with the cares of life. It is as if Jesus had held up Paterson for inspection in the Sermon on the Mount as a symbol of a life well lived, delivered from the worries which assail others and cause them to lose their purpose.
Cultures devoted to speed and efficiency easily become an enemy of originality and inventiveness, producing desiccated souls. To live a transforming, rather than conforming, life asks us to slow down and observe, to move with the rhythm of God’s creative desire. It calls for prayer which is calibrated to slight barometric changes in spiritual temperature.
As the film ends, the dog eats Paterson’s only book of poems. A life lived un-digitally seems to be punished for its negligence. He sits down at his favourite site for inspiration and a mysterious Japanese man arrives. The man begins a conversation about poetry, seeming to know Paterson’s love for the genre. On leaving – at the very end of the film – he gives him the gift of an empty notebook.
It is as if a theophany has happened – God appears to restore Paterson’s trust in the creation of beauty and meaning. Paterson, with his practised gift of patient observation, embraces this gift. God shows himself in the subtle co-incidences, the tiny graces and lingering beauty of creation while most of his world is doubled over with an addiction to speed.
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