It is hard to put a movie in words when there is much to say and you know, no matter what you say, it would never be enough. Paterson movie is for every poet out there, who is constantly humming to the hidden metres of life. It is for all the dreamers who caper on words, who like to keep their thoughts close to their hearts, and who are forever eluded by life’s countless mysteries. It is for those who look for walking metaphors, of allusions in the mundane, who seek ‘meaning’ in the void. If you love to read between the lines, you are going to absolutely love this movie.
While there could be many interpretations of Paterson, for some it could be vacuous, for some it could mean the world, or it could all mean nothing, I am just going to go ahead and say watching it is a beautiful experience per se. For a poet like me, it meant the world. It is probably one of the finest movies I have seen in a while. It is so good, I couldn’t stop myself from finding metaphors in its images.
Here’s a full movie analysis of Paterson movie. The flick is a poem and poems are supposed to be read between the lines. Hope you will enjoy it.
Paterson Movie Full Analysis with Spoilers
Paterson movie is spread out gorgeously throughout a week. It starts with a Monday, with Paterson’s ‘silent magic watch’ waking him right on time for work. As he is in the process of leaving the bed, his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) talks about a dream she had about having twins. We later realize that the Paterson movie is full of instances where twins show up. It is this ability of him as a poet to linger on things and thoughts that transfigure into real life objects. It is an intellectual remark on how everything in our life is interrelated. Laura’s reference about twins and then twins showing everywhere might seem normal to others, but to a man like Paterson who notices things with his beady eyes, it is no less than a miracle.
You are a great poet. All your poems are still in that notebook.
It could also be a subtle wink at metres and rhymes that always somehow sound alike in a poem. And Paterson movie is no less than a poem. There are circles and patterns everywhere, in cheerios on curtains, on bus wheels, in the poem about molecules, and in our lives. The way things begin and then end in the same pattern. The way Monday begins with the movie and then how the movie ends with a Monday. Every element in the movie like Paterson and Laura or even better Paterson and Marvin, like black and white stay juxtaposed to mean something, and yet we are all so attuned to it, that we overlook everything.
Bus Driver in Paterson
The bloke has a menial job. Compare it with yours. It’s the same one you go to day after day. You have been doing it for so long that no matter how awesome it might have been at one point, it has one day ceased to be. But you do it anyway to earn your daily bread. So Adam Driver is a bus driver in Paterson. Paterson in Paterson. That’s another congruity right there.
The bloke has a menial job. Compare it with yours. It’s the same one you go to day after day. You have been doing it for so long that no matter how awesome it might have been at one point, it has one day ceased to be. But you do it anyway to earn your daily bread. Paterson is a bus driver in Paterson. That’s one congruity right there. A poem already taking form.
There’s a photo frame of him on the table where we see him in Uniform. He has probably served in the Army once, an allusion that he has tried different things in life, and he chose the one that suited him the best. Being a bus driver isn’t bad for him since it gives him ample time to think. He aspires to be a poet after all. Since we find him observing a matchbox, and then carving a poem as he walks his way to the bus station.
We have plenty of matches in our house.
We keep them on hand, always.
Currently our favorite brand is Ohio Blue Tip,
though we used to prefer Diamond brand
That was before we discovered Ohio Blue Tip matches.
They are excellently packaged, sturdy
little boxes with dark and light blue and white labels
with words lettered in the shape of a megaphone,
as if to say even louder to the world,
“Here is the most beautiful match in the world,
its one-and-a-half-inch soft pine stem capped
by a grainy dark purple head, so sober and furious
and stubbornly ready to burst into flame,
lighting, perhaps, the cigarette of the woman you love,
for the first time, and it was never really the same
All this we will give you.”
That is what you gave me, I
become the cigarette and you the match, or I
the match and you the cigarette, blazing
with kisses that smoulder toward heaven.
He has a hidden knack for writing extraordinary poems that he steals time to pen. He sits down to write not just so he could finish things in a day, but he chooses to write whenever he feels like or whenever he gets time.
That’s how a work should be like, spread out and not meant to be finished in a day.
The Character of Donny
He has a supervisor named Donny (Rizwan Manji) who fails to get small talk. If you try to understand him a bit more, you will realize he is a guy who can only see his problems. We have cynics and pessimists in real life too, the people who will always see their glasses as half empty no matter how good their life must be.
Paterson is more of a realist. Since we have been witnessing his life on the big screen, we are aware of his insecurities and his dreams. But he remains neutral to everything in life. He is calm and composed, maintains a rare form of equanimity throughout the flick. His perspective of life isn’t all drums and glory, but a silent understanding of it, and coming to terms with every emotion. Besides he has his poems to burn bright.
In his daily routine of driving the bus around Paterson, he listens to stories, not being completely absentminded or blocked out by life’s countless delicacies around. Some are funny anecdotes, some are historic facts, some are conversations about life. It is these things that make Paterson’s work less punishing. It’s all the musings of the world in his backseat that channel in the form of conversations.
Marvin the Dog
He walks back home every day to find the mailbox tilted. It’s like that little inconvenience in your life that bothers you when you see it and you fix it every time, but it always manages to come back. At a later point in time, we are shown that it is none other than Marvin who tilts the mailbox to cause Paterson inconvenience.
The monstrous dog is a paragon of our extreme abhorrence. It’s like our fate that we are stuck with. We can’t do anything to shake it off, it constantly tags along. You could personify that ugliness into a person or a thing whom we forever overlooked in our hunt for contentment.
Paterson hates Marvin. It is that itchy part of her adorable partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) that he has to put up with. I am sure there are a lot of instances in your life that would fit the bill. But the hatred is mutual. It’s that jealousy to be the favourite that boils Marvin up. It is evident when we see literally every moment in the Paterson movie when Laura kisses Paterson, Marvin grumbles. Laura is obsessed with Marvin. She has him even painted on the wall.
To take the dog out every night is part of that blotch that Paterson has to lug. It is obvious that it appears Marvin has Paterson on the leash, as he tries to tug him towards places he wishes to go.
I am guessing this is your human ball and chain,
But Paterson is hard to beat when the Bar shows up. He orders Marvin to stay out every night while he disappears in for hours to have his beer and chat with Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley).
Doc – the Bar Guy
Doc is one of those rare good friends Paterson has who maintains a wall of fame to tack the best the city has offered so far. It is like that elusive dream you are after that will put you right up with the elite.
There is this beautiful dialogue where the Doc is playing chess.
Doc: I am getting my ass kicked today.
Paterson: Who are you playing?
If you really think about it, aren’t we all in a constant battle with ourselves? Chess is merely a personification of it, a nod to the mind games we are always dealing with every second of our life.
Giving Up on Life
We once again close in on a conversation in the backseat. Two men are having an amatory discussion about their love life. They talk about lost opportunities but are content with the way things have panned out for them. They are just tired people who have let go of things, left things to fate, and aren’t actually doing anything to get back on the saddle.
It is their perspective that they have learnt to be cool with, even though unknowingly they have become hideous for judging women; So we see through the contemptuous scorn of a girl who alights from the bus. The constant war to please the other sex, and then to please the same gender, will forever be on. It has been this way since ages. We have to act cool amongst our buddies, and then end up becoming a slave to lust.
Paterson watches his watch as time passes by. Images of his shadow, the city in movement, are all suggestive of it. That’s when he helms another poem.
When you’re a child
there are three dimensions:
height, width and depth.
Like a shoebox.
Then later you hear
there’s a fourth dimension:
Then some say
there can be five, six, seven…
I knock off work,
have a beer
at the bar.
I look down at the glass
and feel glad.
Exploring Laura in Paterson Movie
Laura is like one of those motivators you see on TV, a success story listening to which makes you feel good, but you often end up ignoring out of lethargy or unsurety. She constantly urges him to do the right thing by making a copy of his poems, but Paterson simply nods to her.
She is that quintessential motivator who gives you plenty of strength, believes in you and makes you immensely happy. Laura is that epitome of life, brimming with buoyancy and the feeling of hope in your life.
I really think you should do something about those beautiful poems. They should belong to the world you know.
But she is also that success story whom you are watching grow. She is the one pursuing her dream, getting good at it, succeeding with everything she picks up, turning things into gold. It is evident with her paintings, with her dream to make it big with her delicious cupcakes. It is also apparent with her newly found interest of playing guitar, which by the way didn’t even take her a week to act upon and execute.
I love how you smell when you come home at night.
On the other hand, there is Paterson with his dream to become a renowned poet, but he is not even inching in that direction to prove his mettle. It does feel kind of black and white and forces you to marvel at the juxtaposition again.
I’m in the house.
It’s nice out: warm
sun on cold snow.
First day of spring
or last of winter.
My legs run up
the stairs and out
the door, my top
half here writing
Everett and Marie in Paterson movie
We find a dwindling breakup story in the form of Everett and Marie. The former is a hopeless lover who doesn’t understand the concept of letting go, while Marie is trying hard to break up with him, but it is beginning to get ugly. Paterson and Doc are nothing but silent observers to their unfortunate affair.
Paterson: Is there anything we can do?
Doc: Nah. I always say I’ll try to change things with ya, make ’em even worse.
The height of the torture rips open the roof when Everett comes with a gun in the bar threatening to shoot himself. Paterson tackles him to find that his smooth move goes to waste, since the gun he was holding was a toy gun.
Without love, what reason is there for anything.
It might seem like a hopeless side-story, but if you pay heed enough and try to think from both Marie’s and Everett’s perspective you can’t help feel sorry for both of them. You feel trapped in a web, and choose to be like Paterson, unfazed by what goes on around.
Paterson: Working on a poem for you.
Laura: A love poem?
Paterson: Yeah I guess, if it’s for you it’s a love poem.”
On his way to the bar one day, Paterson eavesdrops on Method Man, an aspiring rapper, and artist. He pays his regards to him, appreciates the work he is doing. He is like all those people that we get, and appreciate because they are all dreamers like us. On asking if the Laundry Place was his lab, Method Man says:
Wherever it hits me is where it’s going to be.
There goes another conversation in the bus between students about Gaetano Bresci, the anarchist from Paterson. They end the historic ranting with a:
Male Student: Do you think there are any other anarchists still around in Paterson?
Female Student: You mean besides us? Not likely.
When I wake up earlier than you and you
are turned to face me, face
on the pillow and hair spread around,
I take a chance and stare at you,
amazed in love and afraid
that you might open your eyes and have
the daylights scared out of you.
But maybe with the daylights gone
you’d see how much my chest and head
implode for you, their voices trapped
inside like unborn children fearing
they will never see the light of day.
The opening in the wall now dimly glows
its rainy blue and gray. I tie my shoes
and go downstairs to put the coffee on.
Young Poet in Paterson movie
On his way from work one day he finds a little girl (Sterling Jerins) sitting all by herself. Paterson finds her to be a poet herself, and she too like him used to carry a secret notebook to house all her poems. She isn’t a fan of rhyming just like Paterson.
Young Poet: It doesn’t really rhyme though.
Paterson: That’s okay. I kinda like ’em better when they don’t.
Young Poet: Yeah, me too.
She recites one of her poems to him which is titled Water Falls, strangely suggestive of Paterson’s favorite place “Great Falls of the Passaic River“. It goes something like this:
Water falls from the bright air.
It falls like hair.
Falling across a young girl’s shoulders.
Making pools in the asphalt.
Dirty mirrors with clouds and buildings inside.
It falls on the roof of my house,
It falls on my mother, and on my hair.
Most people call it rain.
Later at home he tells Laura about the poem, and she reflects how the poem sounds just like him. Paterson once again reflects a twin of himself. People are similar to each other in many ways. It’s just that it takes poetic eyes to see them. Every tiny thing in this universe is interlinked like the Water Falls, the twins, the Secret Book (which was also the name of Petrarch’s early books), Laura (Petrarch’s love interest was also named Laura) and the circles.
People are torn between their interests so much that they supersede one’s desire atop their other half’s. Doc is scolded by his wife on stealing the cookie jar money for his Chess tournament, when clearly she was saving it to get her hair fixed.
To counter that ugliness is Paterson’s relationship with Laura. You can almost sense that contrast kicking in once again.
Paterson: She understands me very well.
Doc: You are a lucky man.
You can order Paterson movie here:
The Bad Day
Everyone has a bad day. That bad day comes as Friday for Paterson when he fails to wake up on time.
Some days something inside just doesn’t wanna get up.
It is soon followed by his bus breaking down. There is a moment of distress and it makes him agitated for a while. He doesn’t have a cell phone and he is forced to borrow one from a little child. A little child has it, there’s that collocation all over again. While Paterson is averse to keeping a cell phone around, and is tingled on numerous occasions during the week about not having one,
Doc: You still don’t got a cell phone?
Paterson: I don’t want one. It would be a leash.
and he could be probably right in thinking one way, but what he fails to realize is that technology makes life easier.
Not everyone is right. The fact gets proven.
Paterson: The world worked fine before they even existed.
Laura: I know darling but sometimes they make things easier.
Everyone he tells about the bus keeps wondering if the bus could have exploded into a fireball. Because that’s the first thing that comes to their minds. It goes on to show how we are wired to think in a similar way. Blame it on all the movies we have grown up watching.
I go through
trillions of molecules
that move aside
to make way for me
while on both sides
stay where they are.
The windshield wiper blade
starts to squeak.
The rain has stopped.
On the corner
in a yellow raincoat
holding his mother’s hand.
Marvin’s Revenge in Paterson Movie
In the madness of Laura’s cupcake’s viral business, Paterson accidentally leaves his Secret Book on the sofa while he was writing the following poem for Laura.
My little pumpkin,
I like to think about other girls sometimes,
but the truth is
if you ever left me
I’d tear my heart out
and never put it back.
There’ll never be anyone like you.
Marvin takes his revenge by completely destroying, nay, shredding the book to pieces. It’s karma that gets you, your hatred for something ending up taking something dear from you. Here the dog ripping the poetry book apart is one instance.
On returning Paterson and Laura find the destruction gawking at them. Paterson’s heart explodes and yet we see him not expressing much. Laura tries to say all the right words trying to set things right, but the damage has already been done.
They were just words. Written on water.
Paterson chooses to walk out and visit his favorite place. He is angry at himself for not making a copy of the book before when he looks at his desk at all the legendary books.
On his way, he meets Everett who seems in a much better shape. He has finally learnt to let go of things in a way inspiring him to do the same.
Everett: Sun still rises every morning and sets every evening. Always another day. Right?
Paterson: So far.
The aforementioned is one of those cliches we always find in life, but we choose not to pay attention when it matters the most.
The Japanese Poet
Paterson is lost in his thoughts and weighing things heavy when he realizes that it is alright after all. He has gone blank with the pain though, that’s when he meets a stranger (Masatoshi Nagase) at his favorite place. He is a Japanese Poet himself who inspires him to never lose hope engaging him in a terse yet powerful conversation.
A bus driver in Paterson. This is very poetic. This could be a poem by William Carlos Williams.
He gives examples of all the great poets out there of how they too were stuck doing odd jobs in their lives, and yet they turned out alright. On being asked if he liked poetry too, he replies:
I breathe poetry.
The Japanese poet, however wrote poetry in Japanese, and was averse to translation.
Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with raincoat on.
As he is about to leave, he gifts an empty notebook to Paterson adding:
Sometimes empty page presents more possiblities.
It is almost as if he made out a fellow poet the moment he engaged him in a conversation. More like a twin from another land. Understanding the situation and gifting him just the thing he needed – hope.
Hope is in the form of the Japanese guy who puts a notebook back in our hand, inspiring us, asking us to never stop even after failing at something terribly.
We find Paterson starting up his chores all over again, jotting a fresh poem altogether to serve as the last poem in the Paterson movie. It went something like this:
There’s an old song
my grandfather used to sing
that has the question,
“Or would you rather be a fish?”
In the same song
is the same question
but with a mule and a pig,
but the one I hear sometimes
in my head is the fish one.
Just that one line.
Would you rather be a fish?
As if the rest of the song
didn’t have to be there.
Curtain closes when we meet Monday once again. It is the circle of life reiterating. Paterson movie ends.
Poems in Paterson Movie
In the end we get to know that all the poems in the Paterson movie were written by Ron Padgett. You cannot thank Ron enough of thinking such beautiful stuff. His poems have been provided apt backdrop of things Paterson is imagining whilst writing. They are metaphors for water flowing insinuating the flow of poetry, of objects in his poem and characters Paterson is thinking about. It is beautifully done by the director Jim Jarmusch.
Paterson Movie is of course not for everybody. It is a tad esoteric and for poetry lovers. If you liked my analysis please do comment and please share something that I missed. I would love to find out that all the time I invested in writing this mammoth article didn’t go to waste.
For more movie analysis and explanations you can check our Analysis leaflet.
You can check out the trailer of Paterson Movie here: