Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part VI of VII

“F**k me? F**k you.”

Easily the most ambitious and segregated of Jarmusch’s films up to now, if for some reason you didn’t think he pushed his surrealist elements hard enough, well, here’s your chance: this is a fever dream western to death, a vocally evident purgatory for accountant (or artist, immigrant, perhaps even a heartbroken murderer?) William Blake in which almost every distinct character presumably plays a past identity of him to tussle a decision for his afterlife. Dead Man is all about a denialist discovering who he was before death, and the journey to make peace with it before he is no longer wanted by the living world, to look it dead in the eyes while accepting this closure as a final offering as to who he should’ve been otherwise amongst the living. The reticent Johnny Depp facade is not just who this man appears to be; there is diabolical sin behind flesh that must be taken down with him in good old gun-slingin’ fashion meets Charles Dickens’ redemption classic A Christmas Carol (1843). 

The narrative becomes even more poignant though when you begin paralleling it to the atrocities in American history, discerning the main character as the subject representative for its committers. Jarmusch utilizes a rare formula that tells all you need to know while not indicating howbeit which information is exactly most important, leading to the self-reliant puzzle piecing for what exactly’s going on that it trusts upon the viewer. A recent example of a movie that also did something similar is David Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021), and the method of its plot using carefully hidden tests to make its lead character prepared for taking on an undisclosed main goal, as well as its audience prepared for their own subjective understanding of the story, although that 2021 feature executed this maneuver with greater mastery due to its stirring, emotionally intense emphases. The jokiest way of describing Dead Man, nonetheless, is that it’s another one of those types of tales centered on how somebody gets “woke” and finds out that they are a piece of s**t in need of change. Finally accept those you wronged and recognize who you were no matter how f**ked up that person may have been… *nudge nudge* white colonizers from our past.

Verdict: B

Jim Jarmusch Ranked

“Dead Man” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

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