Running Time: 121 minutes
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Crispin Glover, Lance Henriksen, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, Iggy Pop, Gabriel Byrne, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina.
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch
Rating: 1.5 out of 10
A man is pursued into the wilderness after killing a man. He befriends an Indian who guides him through the forest and in his spiritual life.
This is my second entry into the movie club (DJ’s Digital Movie Club) which can be found on Facebook. Imagine if you will that directors David Lynch, Terrence Malick, and Wes Anderson were able to somehow have a love child together (shudder.) That love child then grew up to be a director, and that is where we find ourselves with this film. Taking place sometime in the 19th century, Dead Man is the story of William Blake. He is on the run after killing a man, and meets up with a strange Indian (named Nobody) in the woods. Together they stay one step ahead of their pursuers as Nobody guides Blake into the spiritual realm.
At best this movie could be described as pretentious nonsense. At worst it could be described as Art House drivel. Shot in black and white, the movie starts out and we encounter William Blake as he rides on a train. He is on the way to the town of Machine for an accounting job. Most viewers will know if this movie is for them from this train ride alone. With the constant fade to blacks, prolonged dialogue silences, and strange character interactions, it is all a little too much for my liking. The film never really breaks out of this strange style, and it lost me entirely from about the time Blake heads out in to the wilderness as a wanted man. The film than becomes little more than philosophical meandering between Blake and the Indian (Nobody.) As your eyes slowly start to close from all inane dialogue, you will be jilted awake by one of the most obnoxious musical scores that I can ever recall. Neil Young has cranked his guitar to 11 and basically plays the same notes for the whole damn film. Equal parts bored and annoyed, the movie is all over the place in terms of style and one wonders what the hell is happening. At one point the film can be excessively violent as a bullet rips through a man’s throat. The next moment it sees Three Stooge’s type comedy as a few men share some beans in the forest, which then turns into a foolish argument. This film is classified as a journey and it is. It is just not a fun journey. Like when you are on a plane, and are stuck sitting between two kids blasting the music on their IPhones.
I liken this film to a piece of strange art that is hanging on a wall of a museum. You stare at it wondering what the hell the artist is trying to say and not fully getting it. You can walk away from a piece of art though. With this film you are stuck in your own personal purgatory. Dissect this film all you want. You can call it allegorical, satirical, existential, and it is rife with symbolism and metaphors. If I needed all of those things, I would hop into a DeLorean, head back to grade 11 English and read Michael Ondaatje again. I struggled to finish this film as it just becomes more and more bizarre. Blake cuddles with a dead fawn, Nobody trips out on peyote, and people are viciously killed in an attempt to capture William Blake. The ending could not come quick enough (and it doesn’t) and it goes out the way it started, poorly. In conclusion, this film is not made for the everyday film watcher. It is made more for film students and for people who like to discuss the meaning of every scene. Call it whatever you want, I call it a hard sell.
Director and writer Jim Jarmusch has created a spiritual journey that some will applaud, while others will loathe. I will grant him two things. He has the power to stop time with this film, and that you can make a film under the influence of narcotics. He lost me at almost every turn, and it was a struggle to find any shred of a coherent thought to this film. His pacing, musical score, and dialogue are all wearisome. I have not seen another Jarmusch film and it will be a long time before I can go back to his vision of good theatre.
I cannot recommend this film and while granted I am not familiar with William Blake’s poetry, even if I was, I don’t think this would be my type of film.
T Factor + If you are a student of film, and like to discuss symbolism and metaphors in your movies, then this could score WAY higher on the rating scale.
T Factor – If you do not like Johnny Depp as an actor, then this could score lower on the rating scale.
If you liked this film reel recommendations: Adaptation, Broken Flowers.