trillions of molecules
that move aside
to make way for me
Taking place over the course of one week, the film follows a man named Paterson who works as a bus driver in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. Throughout the day, Paterson entertains himself by listening in to the conversations of those around him, whether they be patrons on his bus or familiar faces at the bar he frequents. Every morning, he wakes up next to his faithful and eccentric wife Laura, and every night he takes her dog Marvin on a walk before returning home to her and going to bed. Paterson's primary quirk is that he takes his notebook wherever he goes and writes poetry, which Laura tries to get him to publish despite a lack of interest from her husband.
That's pretty much the whole movie right there. Typical to Jarmusch, it's a film that takes its time and concerns itself with the characters' consideration of their atmosphere more than anything else.
Tropes Paterson displays:
- Badass Bookworm: Paterson writes poetry and has an impressive library, but he is a trained Marine and will not hesitate if he's in a dangerous situation. Ask Everett.
- The Bartender: Doc works in the bar where Paterson goes everyday. He listens to the problems of his patrons (for example Everett who was dumped by Marie). Paterson does not have problems, so Doc talks with him about the local celebrities of the city.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Averted with Paterson. After Marvin shreds all of his poems, Paterson becomes even more quiet, but this time in a depressed fashion.
- Bookends: In the first scene, Paterson wakes up in his bedroom on Monday morning. In the last scene, he does the same.
- The Cameo: Method Man, whom Paterson meets in a laundromat writing lyrics while walking Marvin.
- Captain Oblivious: Laura. Especially towards Paterson and Marvin's mutual dislike. She believes she and Paterson are happy parents of an adoring furbaby, and though Marvin does seem to like her, he clearly views Paterson as an unwelcome intruder he's not allowed to chase off.
- Carload of Cool Kids: When Paterson takes his dog for a walk, a convertible full of young people stops near him to talk about his dog.
- Comical Overreacting: The people around Paterson's life treat his bus's engine breaking down like it could have exploded.
- Double-Meaning Title: The title refers to both the character of Paterson along with the town. When you factor in Paterson's love of William Carlos Williams, who wrote a poem called Paterson, it arguably becomes a triple-meaning title.
- If I Can't Have You : Said verbatim by Everett as he threatens his ex-girlfriend Marie with a gun. Subverted, because it is a foam pellet gun.
- Minimalism: Typical to Jarmusch films, Paterson takes its time reflecting over what very little it presents. The ending poem also implies that Laura is all Paterson needs to be content in his life.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Averted. The film itself never brings up the fact Paterson's white and Laura's brown. Golshifteh Farahani is from Iran and appears to be using her normal accent, though, whether Laura is from Iran/has Iranian ancestry is never stated.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Paterson is always calm and brooding. His wife Laura is upbeat and eccentric: she paints everything in black and white, she suddenly decides to become a country singer...
- Mood Whiplash: At one point in the movie, Everett walks into the bar with a pistol. Paterson quickly disarms him and it's revealed that his pistol is... a foam pellet gun. An annoyed Doc kicks him out.
- Named Like My Name: An unorthodox example, as Paterson shares a name with the town he lives in. There's something poetic about that.
- Opposites Attract: Paterson, a man who makes a point to live a highly-regimented lifestyle, is married to Laura, a woman who picks up new hobbies just as often as she drops old ones.
- Random Events Plot: It's simply a week of Paterson going through his life, with all the small, unexpected moments that come from a normal life.
- Rule of Symbolism: Circles feature prominently to show off the uneventful, cyclical nature of Paterson's life.
- Running Gag: Several.
- Paterson's growing exasperation with running into twins.
- Laura's various hobbies, including taking guitar lessons and painting the house in black-and-white.
- Paterson and Laura's mailbox constantly being knocked off-center by Marvin.
- Paterson's co-worker Donny talking about his increasingly stressful personal life.
- Everytime Paterson tells someone that his bus's engine broke down, he is asked if it could have exploded into a fireball.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Implied, in Paterson's case. At one point we see a photo of him serving in the Marines, and he behaves strangely when Everett comes into the bar with a gun. His highly regimented life is most likely an aftereffect of his time spent, with poetry being his attempt to find beauty after the fact.
- The film is named after the epic poem by William Carlos Williams, which was about the city (Williams was from nearby Rutherford and identified strongly with Paterson). Williams, like Paterson, wrote poetry as a hobby while working a full time job (Williams was a pediatrician).
- Paterson has a protrait of Dante Alighieri in his lunch box.
- Laura talks about The Secret Book by Petrarch. She compares it with Paterson's secret book and notices that Petrarch wrote it for a woman named Laura.
- On Saturday, Paterson and Laura go to the movies to see Island of Lost Souls (1932).
- Paterson and Doc talk about Abbott and Costello ("Who's on First?") in the bar.
- Everett and his ex-girlfriend Marie are compared to Romeo and Juliet, then to Antony and Cleopatra.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Paterson and Marvin don't get along. It's pretty amusing up until Marvin shreds his uncopied notebook containing every poem he'd written up until that point.Paterson: I don't like you Marvin.
- Slice of Life: The film doesn't have much of a plot or a major conflict; it's just about Paterson's everyday life.
- Spinning Clock Hands: Several times, we see the hands of Paterson's watch start spinning to show the passage of time when he is driving his bus.
- Technophobia: Paterson seems to have an aversion to technology. He is reluctant to get a smartphone and never backs up his writing on a computer.