Jarmusch - 2013 09 05 - Dead Man

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Dead Man
Germany, Japan, United States 1995
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Running time: 120 minutes
Format: 35mm

Folks who saw THE LONE RANGER (Verbinski, 2013) this summer bore witness to Johnny Depp’s performance as Tonto, the Indian guide who plays that clichéd, resentful Samaritan to Armie Hammer’s hapless ranger. Eighteen years ago, the polarities were reversed, when an Akron-native filmmaker cast Depp in the role of William Blake, a nebbish clown-clad accountant (“stupid fucking white man!”) from Cleveland. In some ways, Verbinski’s film seems to have weaned at DEAD MAN’s bosom. Paul’s epistles:

“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” – 1 Corinthians 3:2, NIV
“…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” – Philippians 2:12, NIV

Let me propose, then, that the Verbinski film is a working out of its own genre’s salvation. It’s a revisionist take on the masked man, whose original creed vowed, “that ‘this government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ shall live always,” and who, in 2013, disavows the law in favor of justice: “If these men represent the law, I’d rather be an outlaw.” And despite its several tremendous set pieces and some of the summer’s most competently captured action, THE LONE RANGER is milk to DEAD MAN’s solid food.

Its ideas are formal and concise in both realms of text and technique. Blake goes on a Kierkegaard-ian journey thru despair – his sickness unto death.

“In her mild hand the golden Keys: The Grave is Heaven’s Golden Gate” – William Blake, To The Queen

If “follow the money,” is capital advice for the social realist work, then perhaps this existential fable implores us to follow the bullet. The “white man’s metal” rips through two chests, narrowly missing the heart of the first. It stops a man dead in his tracks in front of a Paulinian store sign. All the while, Jarmusch’s troupe of arch character actors remain hilariously ignorant of their own idiosyncracies. In some ways, it’s a more traditional Western-set comedy of errors than BLAZING SADDLES (Brooks, 1974). It breaks from Brooks’ style of unflagging self-awareness that bites the funny bone even while tickling the same. This levity plays right into Jarmusch’s juxtaposition of tone and content, and we sup on a manna whose weight goes nearly unperceived.

KURTISS HARE
05 September 2013