Dead Man

From Academic Kids

Dead Man is a 1995 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. It stars Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Michael Wincott and Lance Henriksen. Noted musician Neil Young recorded the haunting minimalist soundtrack by improvising on his electric guitar as he watched the newly edited film alone in a recording studio.



Auteur writer/director Jim Jarmusch's dream-like, trippy, and typically surreal and quirky, black-and-white-and-gray, plot trumps substance film is a deliberately paced and eventually patience-testing, off-beat, stone-faced (non)comedy chronicle of transition from near-clown to immediate-badass with every persons' inevitable death ever-present in the beautifully scenic and realistically depraved Old West.

Johnny Depp stars as a bookkeeper named William Blake who uses his last remaining money for a self-reflecting train ride from Cleveland, Ohio to Machine, Arizona for a job offered him in a letter. After arriving at the Dickinson Metal Works, he finds the letter was sent months ago; his job position has already been filled. Blake demands to see Dickinson Robert Mitchum who points a shotgun at him and tells him to get out or get shot.

He comes across a paper-flower-selling woman, Mili Avital as Thel, in Machine Town. In the next scene, they are lying on her bed when Dickinson's son, Charles, the woman's ex-fiancÚ, opens the door and finds the two. After a short speech, he takes out a gun and aims for Blake - but he kills Thel instead. Blake, not ready for this, takes the gun Thel had shown him earlier and shoots down Charles. Blake is next seen with a wound in his chest, trying to get out through the window.

Mr. Dickinson hires three amoral bounty hunters to track down and bring Blake back, dead or alive, for stealing his prized horse, the murder of his son and the supposed murderer of his son's ex.

The next morning, after running away with that horse, Nobody (a Native American), played by Gary Farmer finds him, attempts to heal his wound, then realizes it will eventually be fatal. Nobody keeps wandering the land, while Blake, due to his apparent weakness, is forced to follow him, and along the way, help kill many of the violent, deranged people they keep running into.

Blake takes peyote and becomes no longer afraid of death and becomes connected to all around him.

Blake, barely alive, is put in a canoe and sent to sea to return to the soul realm.

The Two Blakes

Blake is not initially familiar with the works of the poet William Blake (18th-19th century artist and writer of the same name). One of the more memorable lines in the film comes from Depp's character before he kills a man; after the victim asks if he's William Blake, Blake replies, "Yes I am. Do you know my poetry?" and then shoots. The poetry of William Blake is quoted by Gary Farmer's character, a Native American named Nobody, at several points in the film. Nobody was acquainted with the works of Blake when he was captured by English trappers and sold as a circus curiosity to be exploited throughout North America and England before being assimilated and then finally returned to his people, only to be rejected as a liar. Nobody's character is fictional but there are many well-documented instances of Natives exploited like this throughout the early history of the New World. Another character, a parricidal cannibalistic bounty hunter indirectly refers to Blake's poetry when he advises a colleague not to drink water from a still pond ("Expect poison from standing water" -Blake). Blake and Nobody travel from the Crow area of the Southwest, up to (presumably) the Makahs along the Northwest Pacific coast.

This film is generally regarded as extremely well-researched in Native American culture. It is also considered to be one of if not the only film by a white about Native Americans that is considerate of the individual differences in Native American tribes and free from stereotypes. The movie makes many poetic statements about both Native American and Anglo-American cultures. A brief but highly informative book on the film, by the same name, was written by noted film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Surreal Mood

The film has very strong but subtle surreal or dreamlike qualities. This feature is supported by the lack of colors (and so are the rest of Jim Jarmusch's movies).


Actors in the Movie

Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum, Gabriel Byrne, Lance Henrikson, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Jared Harris, Jimmie Ray Weeks, Alfred Molina and Steve Buscemi also have minor roles or cameos.

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