Dead Man (1995)

This was the last of the Jarmusch flicks, and the apex of his budgets as well, possibly excluding the recent The Dead Don’t Die. And I think it shows that, given a budget, well, Jarmusch is gonna give you a lot of names (could they possibly be working for more than scale? and why?) no matter how brief or gratuitous.

He's got a few lines.

Names like: Robert Mitchum!

Case in point, this tale of William Blake (Johnny Depp, at the peak of his “doing weird Indie stuff” years), an accountant who travels to Machin (Oregon?) after the death of his parents, only to find that due to his delay, his job (working for Robert Mitchum!) has long been given away (per a toadying John Hurt). A brief dalliance with Thel (played by the beautiful Mili Avital) results in the murderous ire of Gabriel Byrne (I’m skipping character names, people are in this so briefly) which results in death for Mili and Gabriel and a delayed death for Johnny Depp, who goes on the run, since Byrne was Mitchum’s son.

The Dead Man of the movie, therefore is Depp, who has a bullet lodged near his heart and must flee the various villains Mitchum (whom we never see again) sends after him. Other celebrities with small roles: Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton, Crispin Glover and Alfred Molina as a bigoted Christian icon salesman out in the middle of nowhere.

The primary mover of the story, however, is Nobody, played by iconic character actor Gary Farmer who leads Depp deeper into the wilderness, helping him conquer his foes, only to vanish and leave him alone at the worst time, but then to re-appear again and help Depp finish his journey, in which he more-or-less kills him.

Nobody loves you when you're down and out.

Gary Farmer, “Nobody”.

The ending has Nobody pushing Blake off in a boat into the ocean. He’s not dead yet. But Nobody thinks that William Blake is the William Blake, the 18th century poet/artist and that, therefore, Depp is his ghost. I mean, spoilers don’t really matter much for a movie like this, but Nobody dies sending him out on that boat while killing the last bounty hunter out to get him.

Nice, if simple, camerawork. Black and white gives things an otherworldly feel. This was the only film not to have music provide not by John Lure nor Tom Waits. Neil Young, of all people, provides the soundtrack. Again, the Boy and I enjoyed it. It’s odd. It’s…well, it’s Jarmuschian. Deadpan, kinda funny, kinda interesting, no real message to be had. If you like Jarmusch, you won’t be disappointed, and this particular one may have broader appeal as it gives the sensation of a traditional story arc.

I mean. Maybe.

Johnny Depp may have used the same wig for Willy Wonka.

It doesn’t actually have a story arc, mind you. If Blake is our protagonist, while he goes through some remarkable changes he doesn’t really have an arc. He starts out with a blind thrust into the unknown, which kills him, and on his journey toward physical death, he discovers a more survival-oriented side to his nature—but even in the end, he’s passively pushed out to sea by his best and only friend who doesn’t understand that he’s not a ghost.

This would probably irritate the crap out of a lot of people, come to think of it, and the movie grossed a whopping $1M on its $9M budget. But The Boy and I enjoyed it precisely because it’s arranged along a more aesthetic logic and less conventionally predictable.

"I'm a big fan of your work!"

“Gabriel Byrne?! What are you doing here?!”

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