By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) -
Johnny Depp plays William Blake, a greenhorn accountant who takes the train all the way to the end of the line to accept a job, only to find that the job has been filled. His bad luck gets worse as he inadvertently commits a murder and becomes the subject of a manhunt. Blake is shot making his escape, meanwhile, a sadistic bounty hunter follows in pursuit. Blake collapses deep in the woods where he is found by Nobody.
Nobody is an American Indian educated by Europeans, and seems enamored with meeting a man named after one of his favorite writers. He sees it as a sign and decides to help the seriously wounded Blake prepare for the spirit world.
Writer and Director Jim Jarmusch’s films seem to break nearly every rule of the genres in which they are based (Ghost Dog was a Samurai film set in Jersey City, Broken Flowers was a deliberately unromantic rom-com, etc). Dead Man is a western that cares far more for poetry than gunfights. It is in more ways than one the hipster of westerns.
Ok, maybe it’s not like this…
Dead Man is my favorite Jarmusch film because each viewing reveals a new layer of depth. The movie’s main purpose isn’t as an action or adventure story, but rather an existential one. Jarmusch uses the Western setting as a way of exploring the physical and spiritual meanings of death. Heavy material to be sure, but his talents with storytelling and dialog help to craft this into an entertaining, albeit hallucinogenic experience.
The film is also notable for its handling of American Indians. Jarmusch and team clearly did exhaustive research in representing the traditions and customs respectfully. In movies like Dances with Wolves American Indians are often represented in a kind of rhapsodic way that rings false. Actor Gary Farmer delivers an engrossing, complex, and often humorous performance as Nobody, who besides reflecting the spiritual side of the American Indian is still treated like a human being. There is nothing overly mystical or mythical about his portrayal, the result of which feels deeply honest. It is too bad that Johnny Depp has found himself more in demand for his more eccentric performances, because he plays awfully well in subtler roles.
He can do an awfully good Bad-Ass too, it turns out
The film’s instrumental score is by Neil Young, who performed the score live in studio by strumming fuzz guitar to the rhythms of the movie. The result is a hypnotic experience. The only real sin is that the movie’s main theme song is not included on the otherwise excellent soundtrack album. It is a great tune, and perfect for getting in the mood for any Western experience.
One of the most deeply affecting Westerns you’ll see.
Take a Drink: when Nobody calls someone a Stupid fucking White Man
Take a Drink: each time Neil Young’s Guitar kicks into gear.
Take a Drink: when anybody asks about tobacco
Drink a Shot: for every William Blake reference: the more literate you are, the drunker you’ll get (That’s Edutainment!)