Director: Jim Jarmusch, Writer: Jim Jarmusch, Date: 10 May 1996 (USA) Genre: drama / western, Awards: two wins and 5 nominations Filming Locations: Applegate River, Oregon, USA, Company: Pandora Filmproduktion
Main actors: Johnny Depp (William Blake), Gary farmer (nobody), Crispin Glover (train fireman), Robert Mitchum( john Dickinson), Gabriel Byrne (Charlie Dickinson), Lance Henriksen (Cole Wilson), Michael Wincott (Conway Twill), Eugene Byrd Johnny (The Kid) Pickett.
Jim Jarmusch is a leading American filmmaker who began his career in 1980 with PERMANENT VACATION. Before dead man, he directed many films and continuing series of short films. He says the openness of the western form, and its inseparable connection to “America” is the reason that he makes dead man in the form of western film.
Dead man is the history of a traveler from Cleveland to western frontier of America in second half of the nineteen century. William Blake (Johnny Deep) a gentleman moves to town of Machine, a small town far in west, where he has been promised a job. In the first moments of his journey he encounters passengers who open fire on herd of Buffalo, all of them carry gun and shoot and kill easily. The only ordinary conversation that Blake experiences during his journey is whit a fireman (Crispin Glover) whom cannot even read. Blake is shocked when he arrives in an exotic, outlaw, uncivilized, dirty and violate city. When he goes to Melta Works, office manager rejects him because of his delay, but, it does not seem that date and guarantee of work is important for them. John Dickinson, the boss, speaks with the language of gun. With no job, no money and no hope in a gun city, he becomes familiar with a girl who seems different from others. They find each other as kinder spirits but the girl is killed by his former lover -Dickinson’s son- when she is in bed with Blake. Blake kills the man by girl’s gun in self defense. He escapes from town and on the outskirts, he encounters with a strange Native American who called himself “Nobody”. He believes that Blake is the dead English poet who died in 1827. He goes to spiritual journey that is inspired by real Blake poems.
Noticeably, in a key scene, Nobody asks Blake, “Did you kill the white man who killed you?” Bill answers, “I am not dead”.
First of all Nobody teaches him “you will learn to use your guns instead of words, your poetry will now be written in blood”. Soon he learns to cope with the condition that he had never confronted. Contrary to his personality he becomes a hunter and killer but, he does not completely change to a western American. His eyes are open to humanity. He and Nobody kill all persons who want to trap him; he kills big George Drakulious (Billy Bob Thompson), Salvator Jenko (Iggy Pop), Benmont Tench (Jarred Harris), and some other persons. By the end of the film Blake has traveled far beyond every where, maybe he is traveling toward his death.
The film contains a continuing contradiction: the contrast between civilized east and Wild West. Paradox of Blake’s spiritual journey in search of his ultimate destiny which changes his personality to a brutal killer, the coarse Native American man who does not believe in any identity for himself but thinks, experiences spiritual journey, believes in poem and has a sense of respect to the poet, Thel (Mili Avital) the girl, who keeps gun in her bed and perfidies to his lover, has pure and sensitive spirit, Conway Twill (Michael Wincott) one of the most skillful killers in the city has a doll and sleeps with that.
On the technical side, the black and white filming recalls the primitive atmosphere of nineteen century, it gives the sense of nostalgia and solitude of both Dead Man and Nobody, of all people who live together but live in dread, dread of their own language, language of GUN. On the other hand, during the film, black and white space gives the massage of DEATH, the great mystery which there is no specific color for visualizing it. So, Black and white is another contradiction.
Dead Man is composed by Neil Young; the instrumental soundtrack of film which is mostly Electric guitar switches occasionally to pump organ, detuned piano and acoustic guitar. It is a weird soundtrack which is fit to a western film. Totally, it’s a different western movie and it’s not an easy film to understand.