Review of Dead Man

Dead Man (1995)
The death of the identity
18 November 2020
Warning: Spoilers
A train, the return to the unknown and terrifying past. Dead Man is the momentous journey of a young Johnny Deep (William Blake) through the myth of the American western, which he criticizes and satirizes. Jim Jarmusch distrusts the classic western: prostitutes practice their trade, horses urinate, mud ... It is alternative, postmodern, anti-romantic and hypnotic. Unclassifiable, but at the same time a double road movie: Blake travels to the ancient west, and in it, he finds the nature of his being. A temporary and an existential journey, led by Nobody (Gary Farmer).

Some people compare it to Dante's Divine Comedy, but I prefer to do it with works from the earlier classic western. Dead Man is neither Leone's game, nor Ford's myth: the characters don't have as much depth, and despite being an American movie, the West is dirty and in its nature harbors horrors. Jarmusch wants us to accompany William Blake on a momentous journey, the end of which is announced in the film's first line of dialogue.

However, the rhythm of the film is slow, dark and can pass a bad move to the viewer. But it is also part of the film. Black and white, Nobody's poetry and the exceptional soundtrack are key elements of the bizarre and substantial dream in which Jarmusch intends to immerse us; and it succeeds. With a skillful handling of the camera, he makes us partakers, from practically the beginning, of the anguish that Blake feels upon entering Machine Town.

One of the strongest points in Dead Man's favor is Neil Young's narcotic and absorbing soundtrack. He was commissioned to create the soundtrack with the film finished and edited, and Young interpreted the film's dreaminess to perfection with subtle guitar riffs. Thus, he managed to create an equidistant world between the western and reverie, which blends perfectly with black and white photography.

But one of the themes that dominates the film is criticizing primitive violence as something natural and ordinary. Jarmusch likes to show us the effect of a bullet: blood and the hole from which it emanates. At times, he even satirizes with the destructive power of the weapon, such as the scene where the police officer is accidentally shot dead by his partner. Jarmusch condemns the violence of the classic western and recreates himself by showing us its gratuitousness and destructive power.

Jarmusch tells us in Dead Man the journey that can be narrated, the earthly one. But when Blake gets into the canoe, his gaze and his being have changed: it is identity death. When the canoe leaves for the sea, it is a journey that can no longer be counted. It is physical death in nature. Perhaps the fate of our "Dead Man" was more than written, but the way he presents himself to us is, overwhelming poetry, like the new William Blake, the poet.

(first lines)

Train Fireman: Look out the window. And doesn't this remind you of when you were in the boat, and then later than night, you were lying, looking up at the ceiling, and the water in your head was not dissimilar from the landscape, and you think to yourself, "Why is it that the landscape is moving, but the boat is still?".
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