I like to watch movies. This is not to say I am a movie buff; rather watching movies is my preferred form of downtime. At this point in my life, my energy level sags around 7:00 PM. It’s too early to go to bed and I don’t want to commit to a television series, even a mini-series. A two hour movie is the perfect bridge from engaged daytime to dream-filled sleep.
I watch pretty much anything: blockbuster, indie, documentary. I keep a list (of course) of movies I read about or hear about, reserve CD’s from the library, and always have a stack on the side table. Any evening I have no fixed plans—which is most—I watch a movie.
Last night I watched Paterson, a movie set in the mill city of my mother’s birth, a city with a spectacular set of falls over granite cliffs, a downtown of second hand shops, and streets littered with aluminum-clad houses anchored by corner bars. Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson. Driver, driver. Paterson, Paterson. Alliteration is welcome here because Paterson is also a poet. A lovely poet. Who pens lines in his notebook: between bus runs across his native city; while eating lunch from an old-school lunch box, a picture of wife wedged into its curved lid; at the workbench in his cramped basement.
The cinematography is beautiful; Paterson’s inner life is beautiful. Paterson’s wife is beautiful. Their squat 1960’s house is bland outside, beautiful within. This is a man nested in sanctuaries that buffet him from the tedium and danger of the external world.
The movie takes place over one week in which, dramatically, nothing happens. To be sure, there are all kinds of potential dangers. Paterson overhears fraught conversations on the bus, Black hoodies in a low-rider make threatening overtures to his dog, a deranged actor draws a gun in a bar, Paterson’s wife serves up awful dinners, while the bar tender’s wife discovers her man has raided the cookie jar. We keep waiting to find out which thread will fray into drama. None do. Ultimately the movie turns on the worn out story of the dog eating the homework.
Watching Paterson, I began to think, “This movie is about nothing. So what does that make me, watching a movie about nothing?” After it was over, I went to bed and slept solid. Woke up today, thinking about Paterson. Over breakfast, I happened upon an essay that quoted Pascal, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Which brought the art of Paterson to the fore.
The dramatic arts: books, play, movies; are almost always about becoming. The fairy tale ends at the wedding. Paterson is about being. We have no idea how this seemingly ordinary met and fell in love with his quirky, lively wife. We see photos of Paterson in a military uniform, but have no idea what he did in the service, or how it shaped his psyche. We never see extended family; no outside forces impinge on his tiny domesticity. Whether his life is boring or rich is a matter of degree.
For a week we dip into Paterson’s life. He goes about his business, treats everyone with respect, always does the right thing, and survives with his serenity intact. Paterson is not a conventional hero. But the world could use more like him.