Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dead Man. A-

Dead Man may be the ultimate revisionist Western, creating a dark abyss out of the West that may be closer to reality than Old West mythology ever was. But that doesn't mean Dead Man doesn't create its own myths in the process. Director Jim Jarmusch brings a psychodelic dimension to his film, which could be a reflection on the time, yet also might just as well be his personal vision. That being said, it's the content, not the style, that seems to try to restore so historicity to Western culture. When the film's star, Johnny Depp, goes through a frontier town at the beginning, the atmosphere may be more in tune with reality than anything in a John Wayne movie. Much of Dead Man is about encounters, and that's where Jarmusch seems to make his strongest statement. The strange characters peppered throughout the story have wild tendencies, a result of a society that does not try to tame its people. Essentially, there's a structure to the characters in classic Hollywood Westerns that is absent here. These are human beings, but there's plenty of animal in them, too. Johnny Depp is like a tourist, playing a meek, common man from the midwest who gets by on natural instinct. He seems as surprised as we are by the things he encounters. In a brief appearance, Robert Mitchum plays the owner of a company who puts a bounty on Depp's head after Depp shoots his son in self defense. Mitchum is the only character who really fits in with the ethos of Western mythology, and also the only actor who was around in the glory days of the genre. What's Jarmusch's intent here? Perhaps to say that the the idealized culture of the Old West wasn't entirely false, but that there was truth lacking that he wishes to include in his story. Larry McMurtry attempted to demythologize the West with Lonesome Dove, but the world he created was so endearing that he only made the myth greater. If Jarmusch has similar intentions as McMurtry, then he succeeds. He creates an undesirable world that's difficult to revisit. Yet is the movie a great one? Hard to say. What's said is said discreetly. The film's a slow burn, with an eerie, sometime irritating guitar score by Neil Young and performances that are all quiet and strange. Yet it's the fact that we don't feel Jarmusch is just fooling around with us that makes the film endure. 

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