Dead Man, Or When Cormac McCarthy Met Neil Young

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Slow-paced, surreal, and populated by confusingly complex characters, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is a fascinating picture that I’ll not soon forget.

Described by some critics as a “Psychedelic Western,” the film is, in essence, the drawn out death scene of William Blake, a shy and unassuming accountant from Cleveland who, due to a misunderstanding, has been shot and has killed a man. Fearing retribution for the murder, Blake escapes into the wild and journeys through a violent, dream-like landscape, the strangeness of which is only enhanced by the, mostly-improvised, acid guitar soundtrack by Neil Young. The film is shot entirely in black and white, and is told in a very unique format. Each scene is presented as a separate, two to three minute episode. Jarmusch has his characters speak very little dialogue, and instead relies on Young’s surrealist guitar playing to set the tone for each scene. When a character does speak, his or her sentences are as short and confusing as those found in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Dead Man is similar to Blood Meridian in another way–it acts as a critique of the “Manifest Destiny” mantra that fueled Westward expansion. Both works show the American West as a chaotic place of death and decay. Instead of the fertile, virgin lands that, in 1898, historian Frederick Jackson Turner claimed were so vital to American society, both Dead Man and Blood Meridian show the spread of what one might call “white blight”–viral meanness and ignorance spread by European industrialists onto the lands of the indigenous population. Another unique aspect of Dead Man is the fact that, while it certainly criticizes White America’s slaughter of Native Americans, it does not, like so many other Westerns, employ the “noble savage” stereotype. Along his weird and wandering journey, the character Blake is accompanied by a strong, opinionated and, most importantly, flawed, Native American named Nobody. Nobody was captured and educated by the British, and so is far more versed in poetry and literature than Blake. He actually assumes that Blake is a reincarnation of the famous English poet of the same name, and it is because of this that he chooses to assist the former on his journey towards death. They’re relationship is one of the most interesting that I’ve ever seen unfold on screen.

I would love to say more, but I feel that if I expressed ALL my views on this fascinating picture, my writings would take up the complete space of nearly half a dozen books. I’ll say this, the film was enjoyable and thought provoking. It told a strange, cerebral story in a strange, cerebral format. Overall, I would give the picture a rating of 8 out of 10, and would highly recommend it to any analytical moviegoer.

Nathan Liu

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