The works shown on the big screen often define art. Mentions of art are always associated with the greatest who have expressed it, so works that appreciate art often arrive in the form of love letters to the artists who have written them, and Agatha Christie received not only a remake in Death on the Nile but also another upcoming homage in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
Although they are frequently filmed, appreciation films often have a different appearance for their viewers and their creators. This is because of the fact that the public often connects to them in a more celebratory way than the artists who may clearly express their own interests. They impose the notion that art is defined by its finest works, and foster the belief that art's significance emerges when it's consumed by others.
A Repetitive Life
Paterson is the film's name, the name of the town it's set in, and the name of the protagonist, establishing a sense of repetitiveness that threatens to wreak havoc on the main character's conscience. He wakes up in a different position, walks his dog on the same walk, and drinks one beer from the same pub before going to bed.
Art Can Be Private
Paterson writes poetry in a "secret notebook," valuing him more for his laissez-faire personality than for his refusal to divulge them. His wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), requests photocopies and send them to a publisher, but he replies with reluctance.
Art Can Change How We View the World
Paterson's interest in poetry encourages him to pay attention to the little details in his own life that deserve to be rewritten. He often dwells on tokens that have pierced his path into his everyday life, and tries to explain why they are worthy of being re-created as Groundhog Day. But his poetry gives him a reason to be interested in a life that might be perceived as mundane by those who look at what's on the other side.
Paterson's love for poetry makes him interested in how other people interpret the world. It makes the other residents of Paterson appear as not just co-occupants but individuals who are worth paying attention to. Two men discuss failed sexual encounters, two boys discuss Hurricane Carter's significance, and two students discuss Paterson's most famous anarchist.
Paterson is enthralled by his contemporaries' artistic endeavors because, rather than attempting to starve them to fame, they offer a different perspective on who would otherwise flow in and out of his bus unexamined.
Paterson adds another dimension to his portrayal of the world. Jarmusch takes the mundane and implantes a twinge of exoticism to establish the images as ones worthy of curiosity because that's how the film's lead interprets what he sees. There are countless motifs that Paterson picks up on: running water, twins, and the black and white circles that Laura has established as her aesthetic.
Paterson is often shot through windows or has him looking through mirrors as if his perspective is more off-kilter than that of a literalist, skewing the reading of an extremely grounded reality into something much more subjective. Great poetry often makes lemonade from the plodding lemons that the masses mindlessly collect throughout their days, and Paterson's passion for poetry allows him to derive the same meaning from his own routine that he has seen expressed in his bookshelves.
Art Doesn't Have to Take a Physical Form Always
When Paterson's poem-book is shredded by an English Bulldog, the bus driver is stunned. His initial reaction to losing his poems implies that he was hugely attached to their physical form, and that the book and its contents had a tangible weight. His conversation with a Japanese tourist helps him realize that the poems have a purpose beyond their physical form.
The realizations aren't tied to the paper. They're just a way for Paterson to contemplate his own existence, and the valuable tokens they've taken away from their creation aren't their presence, but how they altered his perception. The understanding they instill are far greater than the lines they were intended to convey, and that understanding will never fade even if Paterson cannot return and look at them.
Paterson, both as a man and as a filmmaker, understands the basic principles of artistic expression and consumption that all of its modest viewers can relate to. It takes something as mundane as a matchbox and transforms it into something truly meaningful. It takes people we will never see again and makes us curious about the little things they want to present in their lives.