The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

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“I’m just sick of zombies, man. Like, the real zombies that are just walking around us, not paying attention to anything, letting the end of the world happen. There’s a throwaway line in Only Lovers Left Alive where the couple talks about humans being zombies — because they’re not conscious of what’s around them. And look how unconscious so much of the world is right now, for the most part, of its impending end. It’s sad and it’s maddening. And I’m really fucking sick of it.” – Jim Jarmusch in an interview with Rolling Stone

The Dead Don’t Die feels like a parody of a Jim Jarmusch film.  Between familiar actors, the same dry humor and pieces pulled from his past films like Dead ManPaterson and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai this movie is unmistakably Jarmusch-ian.  It feels relevant simply because he made it, because it’s his take on the state of the world and on a particular genre of movie.  At the same time it feels a bit too raw and unformed.  In an interview Jarmsuch explained that some of the particular quirks of this movie came out in an almost stream of conscious way, a bit of his subconscious poured onto the screen.

And like with David Lynch there is something fascinating about such a way of working.  Jarmusch doesn’t feel the need to stuff his ideas and imagery into a neater story or narrative, he just spills it onto the screen like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Because I am quite fond of his movies and his sense of humor I found a lot to like in this movie, but some of the fourth wall-breaking and overall detachment from the world he’s depicting wore thin.  I still find it interesting to think about, especially knowing that his opinion of these characters (and humanity) comes from a place of understandable anger, but my favorite Jarmusch movies empathize with his characters, particularly the strangest ones.

This one looks at the people of the quiet Centerville with a large disconnect, like lab rats.  Jarmusch’s own point of view most clearly takes the form of an undertaker played by Tilda Swinton.  She is out of this world, undefined by gender, nationality (no one’s exactly sure whether she’s Scottish or Irish, and they’re all wrong) and anything remotely human.  In one amusing moment she asks a police officer (Chloë Sevigny) if she and another (Adam Driver) are dating.  When asked why she says she’s just gathering information.  When the scene ends she doesn’t turn left to walk out the front door but rather spins around to the right, making the simplest moves more complicated, like someone learning to be human and failing at it.

In some of Jarmusch’s best movies he looks at his characters with a curiosity that borders, in my mind, on cold and sterile, but he frames them in an affectionate way.  Their eccentricities appeal to us, even in a movie like Broken Flowers in which the characters are quite sad.  The extremes of human emotion may be felt by his characters, but Jarmusch keeps them at a distance, and the effect is that everything is just kind of amusing.

Here it feels damning.  Even the more lovable characters embrace their doomed end, highlighting Jarmusch’s message about the state of the world, but in that rush to get through a point of view the characters feel paper thin.  It’s not that they talk with little intonation and that the movie is so absurd that the stakes are almost nonexistent, rather that they feel rushed through, half-assed, raw and unformed, never given a chance to become anything more human.

But that’s the point, right.  In several scenes Adam Driver’s character refers to the movie itself, the theme song, the script and Jim Jarmusch himself.  It’s the type of fourth wall-breaking which doesn’t feel earned, just kind of frustratingly cute.  And yet it highlights Jarmusch’s point, that these characters are so thin already that when they die it’s as if they never even existed, they just disappear like with Thanos’ “snap,” their blood replaced by course, black dust.

So this all fits with what the movie wants to say, and that point is made quite clear.  So it’s fine, but it feels like it came together too easily, at least the script.  It’s low hanging fruit, I suppose, a point and a movie made in his sleep, about characters still asleep.  It’s a sleepy town and a sleepy apocalypse, and I can’t get too worked up about it because this is the point, what Jarmusch is trying to say, that the planet is dying, we’re going extinct and we’re not doing anything about it.

Up Next: A Separation (2011), The Handmaiden (2016), Funny Ha Ha (2002)

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