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.
- 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.
- Black Best Friend: Doc is probably the closest thing Paterson has to a best friend.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Minor Injury Overreaction: The people around Paterson's life treat his bus's engine breaking down like it could have exploded.
- 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.
- 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.
- Shout-Out: 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).
- 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.
- 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.