Cinerama: Dead Man

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Cinerama

Dead Man

By Mike Derderian

A deadline for an article is like a rope made for a dead man’s gallows. A coarse rope tied around his neck. With every second, minute and hour, tighter and tighter that dead rope becomes as the time limit approaches its end.

Such is life: an article waiting to be written by a dead writer, who in his boney hands holds a raven’s feather submerged in blood. Scribbling a few words on an ancient piece of papyrus he writes, “Our death is but a deadline that we know nothing of. Imagine living thy life knowing the time and day when the man with the grim smile will arrive to reap thine soul. The horror,(*) I’d rather not know.”

In his rotting mind one finds the images of a beautiful place where fairies, demons and the creatures of the light dwell freely away from the prying eyes of practical mortals, whom forever lost the magic.

I sense that I somehow have been here before in the past, and lived a life that is different than the one I had, I am having, and will have. I, just like that dead man, hate deadlines, for I believe giving a writer a time-limit is like asking an artist to create a work of art at gun point. So the argument is: Am I a reporter, a writer or a dead man?

A question that neither you dear reader, myself nor William Blake, the protagonist in Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 Indie (independent film) masterpiece Dead Man, will be able to answer. Not at the moment anyway.

A young man mistaken for the English poet William Blake (1757-1827); a philosophizing Indian called Nobody; a murdered young beautiful woman known as Thel; three hired assassins whom dislike each other; and a bitter rich old man that wants to avenge his dead son that was killed by the young man mistaken for the English poet William Blake, those are the eccentric characters Jarmusch created for his film plot that is set in the dark side of the wild west of the United States, where no one dared travel alone, especially when the only existing law used was the law of the gun.

“That gun will replace your tongue. You will learn to speak through it and your poetry will be written in blood,” announced the reserved Nobody whose real name is Xamichee, He Who Talks Loud Say Nothing to the distressed and wounded young man.

Dead Man stars Johnny Depp, Robert Mitchum, Mili Avital, Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd, Gabriel Byrne, John Hurt and Gary Farmer as Nobody.

After watching Jarmusch’s scenic and brutal film—if you can survive 121 minuets packed with gore, repulsive violent death scenes, a dead-slow pace of events and a narrative voiced by a mesmerizing guitar riff and solo by Neil Young—then my dear reader welcome to the Indie film fan club.

In other words, this is a film created for those who have a taste for an artistic film filled with symbolic spectacles and great lines, because if Dead Man was, heaven forbid, screened in a commercial theater, where everyone enters in search for a blaze-of-glory-style western, then he/she are in for a dud. But if you belong to the former group then you’ll simply love it. Just like what happened with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner—a lot of people hated it, yet it was dubbed the number one Sci-fi film ever only last year, unless Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy proves otherwise.

Depp gives a riveting performance as William Blake, the man facing death in the eye, whom as his painful trail comes to its end, will become an entirely different man. Jarmusch brilliantly captures Blake’s transformation from a gentle young man to a lethargic cold-blooded killer. A cornered man with no hope at all will eventually lose faith even if he was aided by the best of friends.

Nobody (Farmer), the Red Indian who acts like the Good Samaritan, saves Blake from certain death and aids him in his journey to nowhere. After killing Charles Ludlow ‘Charlie’ Dickinson (Byrn), who shot Thel, the reformed prostitute that sells paper flowers for a living, Blake becomes a wanted man.

The same man, whom Blake was supposed to work for and traveled across a waste land to reach, turns out to be the father of the girl’s killer, who is in turn a ruthless millionaire enacted by Robert Mitchum.

Jarmuschs’ film that was shot entirely in black and white not only proves the absurdity of life but also manages to draw a few laughs through its witty dialogue; nevertheless, one will find it difficult to pace a coherent plot. But if you read between the images and you synchronize it with Neil Young’s music than you’ll find some logic.

It is a very surreal and unusual film filled with strange, cruel characters and a benign ending that will inflame the taught and imagination for quite a long time. Dead Man is a film for a dead man wanting to re-live his life as a better man in a better world.

*From Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness


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