Drop in on Jarmusch’s Acid Western “Dead Man” at the Trylon


The Trylon’s Jim Jarmusch: No Answers Provided continues this week, with his masterful acid western, Dead Man.

Review by Trylon volunteer Caty Rent.

Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight.
–William Blake, Augeries of Innocence

Dead Man is Jim Jarmusch’s cameo studded, somewhat comical, and modern approach to the Western. Filmed in black and white with a soundtrack by Neil Young, this film is a powerful portrayal of a lost soul on the path to a final resting place. Crisp and slowly paced fade outs are a continuing delicacy throughout this feature, as well as the frequent thunderclap of gunshot that can break up the dirge-like pace.

Johnny Depp plays the main character, William Blake, a mealy-eyed everyday man that follows a Kafka-esque Wild West experience with the ghost of death looming over him. In the beginning, Blake is an unassuming accountant from Lake Erie decked out in a plaid suit with a bowtie. With his round little spectacles and John Bull Topper hat, Blake patiently sits on a train at the beginning of the film. The long side shots coming from outside train are just plain beautiful. Blake passes the time by staring, sleeping, reading, and even playing solitare. He’s heading for the end of the line, the town of Machine. He has a new job at Dickinson’s Metal Works.

The first words in the film are spoken around the five minute mark. It is the coal stained Train Fireman played by Crispin Glover with whom Blake has his first conversation. The Fireman is shown Blake’s letter of employment, to which he (Glover) replies, “I wouldn’t trust no words written down on no paper.” The Fireman also suggests that Blake is just as likely to find his own grave.

When Blake finds Dickinson’s Metal Works, he discovers, much to his dismay, that the job was given to someone else. He insists on speaking with Mr. Dickinson, and enters his office. Robert Mitchum plays John Dickinson, in the last role of his life. Dickinson is a gruff and mean (but respected) man who owns most of the town. He tells Blake, “The only job you’re gonna get here is pushing up daisies from a pine box.”

Down on his luck, Blake spends the last of his money on a bottle of alcohol and sits on the stoop outside the bar to drink it. While he is deciding his next move, a woman named Thel Russell (Mili Avital) gets thrown out of the bar and called a whore. She lays in the mud, despondent, surrounded by paper flowers she peddles for almost no money. Blake awkwardly stares at her until he thinks to get up and help her. He offers his flask and they find their way back to her place.

Later, another man, Thel’s lover, barges in the door while they’re in bed. The stranger tries to kill Blake, but Russell covers him with her body and is shot and killed. Blake shoots at the stranger several times and finally hits him, but not before getting shot himself–the bullet has hit him near the heart. Blake is able to get up, flee through the window, and steal the stranger’s horse.

Blake wakens to find a burly Native American man, named Nobody (Gary Farmer), attempting to extract the metal from around his heart. After hearing Blake’s name, Nobody becomes the helpful guide and leads Blake on a spiritual quest because Nobody thinks our hero is William Blake the poet, painter, and now killer of white men. Nobody is charismatic, eccentric and was abandoned as a child. He is such an intriguing character for Jarmusch that he is also in Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai.

Dickinson hires the three most ruthless killers he can find to hunt down Blake. It turns out that the stranger he shot was Charlie Dickinson, the powerful man’s youngest son. Blake is also accused of the murder of Charlie’s finance, Thel Russell. Dickinson made it clear he doesn’t care if Blake is dead or alive, but he wants the horse.

Dead Man continues with Blake as a wanted criminal, an outlaw who merely found himself in poor circumstances. Blake is slowly dying of his gunshot wound along with lack of food and water. He breaks out of his awkward, quiet self and transforms into a confident killer looking for answers and a place to finally rest. Before he kills a white man, he will ask innocently, “do you know my poetry?”

Caty Rent pretty much lives coffee and is obsessed with the Batman.

Dead Man screens at the Trylon Monday and Tuesday night at 7:00 & 9:15. Purchase tickets here.

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