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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

We split ourselves.

It begins at birth, one cell begets two, two beget four and so on. Miraculously, all those divisions add up to one being, whole and indivisible.

But even when we're done growing, we still divide ourselves—perhaps not physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually. We're different people depending on environment and circumstance. We're one person at work, another at home. We change from Friday night to Monday morning. Accountants, janitors and middle managers become garage guitarists or mountain climbers or Karaoke enthusiasts. We aren't either-or, but both-and.

Paterson drives a bus, and he runs much of his life much like a bus schedule: He wakes up around 6:15 each morning and creeps out of the bed he shares with Laura, his better half. He grabs his neatly folded uniform off the nearby chair. He scarfs down a quick cup of cereal. He walks to the bus depot. He climbs aboard his diesel behemoth to shuttle passengers to points A, B and C. Once back home, he eats. He takes Marvin, his judgmental English bulldog, for a walk. He orders a pint of beer at a neighborhood bar, watching as the brew sinks lower and lower into the glass.

Paterson is a poet. As he walks, lines of verse tumble through his mind, the words twisting and forming as his heels click on the brick. He pulls out a notebook before he pulls out of the depot, scribbling a harried line or two before sailing into the quiet, crowded streets of Paterson, N.J. (the place he's presumably named after). He sits by a nearby waterfall during his lunchbreak, penning line after line as his literary hero, William Carlos Williams, once did in the very same town—emulating that poet's image-rich lyrical cadences, polishing the day-to-day drab with life and beauty and song. Ohio Blue Top Matches become a catalyst for a love poem. A slowly emptying glass of beer instigates lines about life.

Paterson is both bus driver and poet, one locked and living inside the other. If he's bothered by the bifurcation, he doesn't show it. He writes only for two—for Laura and for himself, his verses stuck in a lineless notebook.

But Laura begs him to do something with those verses. Send them off to a publisher or, at the very least, get them copied, she encourages. They shouldn't be stuffed away, hidden in Paterson's secret notebook. Then one night, Paterson finally relents. This weekend he'll make copies, he says. This weekend.

If he can find the time.

Positive Elements

You don't need to live a remarkable life to be a remarkable person. If you squint, Paterson is proof of that. The guy drives a bus every day, walks his dog every evening and brings home a paycheck every two weeks. It's not exciting, but in an age in which we're all encouraged to follow our dreams and live for ourselves, there's something rather charming and even inspiring about Paterson's humble, meaningful life. He doesn't seem to love his job, but he does it, wedging his literary dreams and ambitions into the seams around the edges. We're tempted to feel sorry for Paterson, but he doesn't complain. In fact, Paterson, through his poetry, seems to think himself pretty lucky. He's in love, after all, and much of what he does, he does for Laura.

Paterson loves his partner uncritically and unconditionally, supporting her in everything she does. When she paints the drapes with black-and-white circles or paints the trim black, he dutifully marvels at her handiwork; when she cooks him a pie made of brussels sprouts and cheese, he chokes it all down with a smile. And when Laura wants to buy a guitar so she can become a country music star, Paterson gives her the go-ahead—even though the purchase puts a heavy burden on his paycheck. Is Paterson's unquestioning devotion wise? Perhaps not. But through that devotion, we see his good, generous soul, one that, if it errs, will always err on the side of love.

Spiritual Content


Sexual Content

Paterson takes viewers through a week of Paterson's and Laura's lives, and each day begins in their small bedroom, watching the couple sleep shortly after dawn. Sometimes they're draped across each other; other days they don't even touch. Once we see part of Laura's body sans covers—the side of her bare torso and leg and rear—as Paterson gently kisses her back. Audiences don't see anything critical, and Laura asks Paterson to cover her up better shortly thereafter. (She's cold.) The two kiss at times. We see Laura in a camisole.

Paterson's poetry often ultimately revolves around Laura: We hear lines like, "Blazing kisses that smolder to heaven," or how if Laura would leave him, he'd rip out his own heart. While the couple shares a bed and, obviously, a deep commitment to one another, there's never really a clear indication of whether Paterson and Laura are married or not.

We do know that Doc, the barkeep at Paterson's favorite watering hole, is hitched. But that doesn't stop the guy from flirting with a pretty lady (who's wearing a fairly tight outfit) at the bar one night. Marie and Everett, two other regulars there, have been in the midst of a multiweek breakup: Everett refuses to accept the fact that Marie's just not interested in him anymore.

On the bus, Paterson overhears two guys talking about women they met recently: Both brag that the ladies were clearly interested in having sex, but both rather sheepishly admit that neither took advantage. (One does say that he got the woman's phone number, but then confesses that he hasn't used it yet. He's going to give it a few days, he tells his pal.)

Violent Content

Paterson hears people tell some violent stories of figures connected with their city: One recounts the story of Hurricane Carter, the middleweight boxer from Paterson who was convicted of murder and later released. (There's speculation about whether he actually was guilty or not.) Two youth talk about the mysterious death of an Italian noble: The multiple gunshots, one says, suggest murder, though some believe he committed suicide.

[Spoiler Warning] Everett pulls a gun at the bar—first pointing it at his ex-girlfriend, Marie, then pushing the barrel into his own temple. Paterson tackles Everett and wrestles him to the ground, and Doc plucks the gun out of Everett's hand. He pulls the trigger, and foam pellets come out.

Crude or Profane Language

Four f-words and three s-words. We also hear "d--n" about seven times and "h---" and "a--" two or three times apiece. God's name is misused twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Paterson walks down to the bar every night, Marvin in tow, and drinks one big glass of beer. When he comes back and crawls into bed with Laura, she tells him that she likes the smell of the beverage on him. Others at the bar quaff wine and other drinks.

Other Negative Elements



In a cinematic landscape besotted with explosions, flying marvels and all manner of gee-willicker CGI wizardry, Paterson is a very different movie. The fate of the world doesn't hang in the balance. The dramatic stakes here are a bit lower: Will Paterson actually Xerox his poems? Will everyone at the farmer's market like Laura's cupcakes?

I was not familiar with independent film icon Jim Jarmusch's oeuvre before walking into Paterson. And since I've gotten so used to dark, on-the-edge-of-your-seat film craft, I was half-expecting Paterson to go crazy, drive his bus into innocent bystanders and have the rest of the movie become some sort of gritty courtroom drama.

But no, Paterson holds it together. He drives his bus as well as you could hope for a bus driver. He lives his life—or, at least, the week we see of it—with integrity, duty and a surprising level of passion. His life, in its own way, looks quite a bit like ours in their mundane ways, too. Most of each day is duty. We find our joys and sorrows at the edges, squeezing life out of the margins where we can.

For a movie where not much happens, there's a lot going on here. Jarmusch uses Paterson's story to contemplate the beauty and idiosyncrasy of artistic creation, with Laura serving as his protagonist's free-spirited muse and Marvin as his glowering, curmudgeonly critic. The film ponders the nature of our own dual selves: Nearly everyone Paterson talks with has a secret passion, and twins populate almost every crowd scene. For me, Paterson illustrates the inherent value and beauty of art, even art that no one sees. It suggests that artists aren't artists because of what they do or whether anyone applauds the beauty they create, but because of who they are and how they see themselves and the world around them.

Paterson is rated R for a handful of f-words, and there is a bit of sensuality in play as well. With just a wee bit of restraint, the movie could've easily been PG. Not that families would flock to this quiet, introspective work anyway. Paterson is enjoyable without being entertaining. It's a shyly thoughtful story that asks its viewers to stretch themselves and dream a little … but to not be in a rush to quit their day jobs.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range



Adam Driver as Paterson; Golshifteh Farahani as Laura; Bary Shabaka Henley as Doc; Chasten Harmon as Marie; William Jackson Harper as Luis; Rizwan Manji as Donny


Jim Jarmusch ( )


Amazon Studios



Record Label



In Theaters

December 28, 2016

On Video

April 4, 2017

Year Published



Paul Asay

Content Caution

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