Tuesday, December 9, 2008

DEAD MAN (Jim Jarmusch, 1995, USA) William Blake is an accountant whose days are numbered as he begins to write his own violent poetry with hot lead and cold blood. DEAD MAN is an existential Western tale of a young city slicker lost amid the strange alien landscape of the Frontier, a metaphor concerning his own spiritual journey into the eternal void. Johnny Depp plays Blake with a gentle wide-eyed innocence, a man who has stumbled into the stinking quagmire of hell, and must lose everything in order to find himself. He kills a man in self-defense but must flee into the wild with a bounty on his head; there, he is discovered and brought back to the land of the living by his spirit guide, an Indian who sees Blake as the great poet incarnate. Jim Jarmusch films in glorious black and white, the bleak contrast draining all hope and vigor from this lifeless scenery, which imbues the narrative with an ominous crescendo of dread. Neil Young’s guitar underscores the images with an electric tempest, like a lightening strike or subtle vibrato that creates the perfect psychological inflection. The narrative is structured in small vignettes as Blake and his Indian guide Nobody (homage to Terrance Hill in MY NAME IS NOBODY perhaps?) must elude bounty hunters to reach the peaceful end of their journey. But Nobody sees Blake’s true self, he peers through the opaque illusion and witnesses the grinning death mask: not to be feared, this is the fate that awaits us all. Jarmusch skewers convention and the hired killers become a vicious slapstick, their quarrelsome relationship adding a depth of black humor to the drama, creating a few uncomfortable and unexpected laughs. William Blake finally reaches the end of his journey but must travel alone, the crashing surf a tumultuous vow, a marriage of Heaven and Hell: “men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast”. (A)

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