The Brilliance of “Paterson”

“The film that no one saw but is worth watching”

That’s how I’ll describe Paterson to my friends from now on. This film’s an Amazon production that came out last year about a modest poet and bus driver played by Adam Driver. If you think back of an Amazon production that came out in 2016, the movie that’ll most likely pop up in your head is Manchester by The Sea and not Paterson. Whilst Manchester by The Sea is a good film it’s  still a shame that Paterson wasn’t the one to ring a bell, since is equally as good or even better in some aspects than Manchester by The Sea and it especially shines in its harmony of simplicity and complexity.


If you’ve seen this film you’ve most likely noticed the use of black and white. Paterson’s wife, Laura, adores the combination of the two colors and has decorated their entire house with solely these colors. Not only there we can find black and white, but also in the bar to which Paterson goes each evening. Over there there’s a subplot of a chess championship and guess which colors chess pieces have? Black and white.

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in “Paterson” – 2016

But what do these two simple “colors” (I know that they aren’t really colors but I’ll refer to them as colors throughout the article) mean to the film and why are they used so explicitly? In my opinion there are three quite different answers to that question. One of them is that Laura’s obsession with black and white symbolizes her personality. She’s either sad or extremely motivated and creative, most of the time in the movie though she’s the latter. There’s no in-between. She can’t see the world with nuances. She only sees it in black and white. Good and bad. There’s no grey aria for her. Her visions on the world are solely in black and white and nothing more and that’s where her character differs from Paterson and creates a contrast between the two of them, like the contrast between black and white. Both are creative, but not creative in the same sense. They’re different kinds of creative which makes them similar, but also very different from each other.  She’s able to express her emotions very well, while Paterson’s more a subdued character, who keeps his emotions to himself or writes them down in the form of poetry. Poetry also helps him to see the world with nuances.  His own distinct style of poetry helps him to see the world with nuances. We can also find that poetry back in the shots scattered throughout the film of which some looked like they were imitating an 18th century romantic painting.

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in “Paterson” – 2016

The second answer to that question is that the black and white represent the simplicity and repetivity of Paterson’s life. His life’s very monotone; each day’s practically the same. Every day Paterson wakes up, kisses his wife, eats some cereal , goes to work, comes back home, has the same conversation with his wife he had the day before, goes to the bar with his dog, comes home and goes to bed to then wake up the next morning and do exactly the same thing over again. But the harsh reality is, is that it’s true. This film makes the viewer reflect on their lives and makes them think about it. And then the viewer comes to the realization that our lives are in fact repetitive. We only live in the illusion that we break the repetition of life by social media, phones etc. while this only makes our lives more repetitive. Paterson doesn’t have a smartphone or a Facebook account.  He doesn’t tweet about what’s going on in his life. He doesn’t care that his life’s repetitive. He embraces it and he finds it beautiful.

Another thing you probably have noticed while watching the film is that there is more than one occasion when you can see twins on-screen.  This two represents the repetition of Paterson’s life, but there’s also another meaning behind it in my opinion, and that one will be explained in the third answer to the question asked in the beginning.

“Water falls from the bright air
It falls like hair
Falling across a young girl’s shoulders
Water falls
Making pools in the asfalt
Dirty mirrors with clouds and buildings inside
It falls on the roof of my house
Falls on my mother and on my hair
Most people call it rain”
– “Water Falls”, written by Jim Jarmusch, in the movie performed by the little poet.

So the third answer I have is that the black and white, the twins and even the two broken fingers of the aha-man at the end of the film represent the duality of poems. To be more specific: the rhyme of his poems.  Paterson’s poems don’t rhyme and as we discover in the conversation he has with the little poet, he likes them better that way. But there’s at times internal rhyme, well not specifically in his poems, but in the ones of the little girl, who, if we can trust Laura’s knowledge on Paterson’s poems, sounds like one Paterson would write. His poems have been projected onto his life.

As you can see from these three answers, there are multiple ways to interpret one tiny detail out of a Paterson. In my opinion the “right” way to interpret the symbolism of the film is a mix of these three answers, whilst some people would still disagree with me. These people think that there are no deeper lying messages in the film and that it’s just a snippet from someones life, which is also a good interpretation, because in the end this film’s one giant poem, and aren’t all poems open to interpretation?

6 thoughts on “The Brilliance of “Paterson”

  1. So fitting that you ended your post with “open to interpretation?”

    My favorite quote from King’s Dark Tower series, which was the subject of another of your recent posts, is from The Gunslinger, “You will not see what you do not look for.”

    I just watched Patterson last weekend and I was just thinking to myself today, Strange that I haven’t seen any posts about Patterson.

    And now that I’m looking (subconsciously) I noticed your post. And, like you said, few people saw this and it’s def worth watching! Great post 👍

    Liked by 1 person

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