Life Is Like a Dream: Jarmusch’s Paterson Unfurled


Through its dreamlike aesthetic, lethargic rhythm, and patterned mise-en-scene, Jim Jarmusch’s densely philosophical tone poem manages to convey a certain unutterable phenomenology, one which is surrealistically experienced in life’s poetic coincidences and confusions. It is mindfully realized through an acute sense of reality as a projection by the unconscious; it is the inner self manifest. This is life as a dream or mind at large, and a way of seeing the world as old as Buddhism or the Indian Vedas, but popularized by the acid counter-culture of the 1960s.

Paterson (Adam Driver) at once embodies the city of Paterson while himself an individual, but it is through his conscience that the world around him takes shape, as if it were all created for him. In this view, the poet’s interpretation of reality is a measure of understanding the self and expressing the meaning of one’s life to oneself. This idea explains the privacy of poets, to wit Paterson, who displays apprehension in sharing with his girlfriend poems which she herself inspired. He neither chooses to make copies of the poetry, and when his notebook is ripped to shreds by Marvin, the bulldog, Paterson experiences a visible loss of self, which is later reinstated in bizarre fashion through a Japanese man’s wise advice.

Neither contrived nor self-serving, this action which appears without context may exist in Paterson’s world simply because it is Paterson’s world in which it exists. The Japanese man arrives as response to an inner yearning, a projection of Paterson’s unconscious which has manifested in order to direct Paterson back towards a path of grace and poetry.

Cross-fades and waterfalls convey this life within a life theme, supporting the film’s surreal atmosphere with superimposition of image over image. Dreams conveyed by his girlfriend become Paterson’s thoughts which later become part of Paterson’s experience. His poetry is thus informed by the surreal qualities of life which appear to reflect back on his own existence. It’s the poet in him that recognizes these bizarre coincidences and patterns as signs of meaning, which he then documents in poetic form as an act of self-revelation.

Encircling Paterson’s poetic world is Jim Jarmusch’s cinematic poetry, which forges itself as a distinct layer of art, as one of creation and of pure expression. Paterson’s life thus expresses the poetic manifestation of Jarmusch’s creative act. The film is Jarmusch’s world as much as Paterson’s notebook writings are Paterson’s world. And so life exists within life, each layer supporting the other as if dream being manifest into a reality in which dreams manifest into a reality, each reality slightly removed yet fully encapsulated by the individual—existence itself the one line within a reality where the rest of it doesn’t really have to be there. It’s all just Paterson unfurled.

94/100 – Amazing.


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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3 Responses to Life Is Like a Dream: Jarmusch’s Paterson Unfurled

  1. Matthew says:

    Excuse me, Kamran, but I am very happy that you are having a great time reviewing films!

  2. Pingback: Best of 2016 | Aesthetics Of The Mind

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