Indie director Jim Jarmusch continues his deadpan turn to the undead with zombies. “The Dead Don’t Die” highlights the director’s zest for B-horror films, as did “Only Lovers Left Alive” which featured some existential romantics or vampires depending on your point of view.
This meditation on George Romero features all the quirk and camp that one might expect from the distinctive Jarmusch who turns his films into musical cartoons: personal, obsessively compulsive and colorful with a celebration for the individualist, the unusual or the creatively neurotic. If this fleshy foray into night is not as deep as its bloodletting predecessor, it still has enough abstract one liners and theatrical personalities to keep any Jarmusch devotee in stitches.
The famously offhand Bill Murray is a cop in Centerville. His name is Cliff Robertson (perhaps in an ironic tribute to the late actor). His partner is Ron (Adam Driver). Cliff realizes that it is daylight well into the evening while Ron’s mobile phone is dead, though it should have been at full charge. Then the next morning they get a call from Hank (Danny Glover) about two gory human deaths at a diner. Was it, they wonder, a wild animal or several wild animals? This is a repeated line throughout the film, and though it is an obvious nod to schlock film it has a cadence all its own.
As one might guess, Carol Kane rises from her stretcher asking for chardonnay and we are battling zombies here.
Robertson and Ronnie go at it with machetes but the decapitations are not important here. The interest is in the many cameo appearances and what Ron feels philosophically. The character is an extension of the poet in Jarmusch and Driver’s “Paterson,” and Driver is again weirdly compelling. “Things will not end well; this is bad,” Ronnie invariably says. Ron, like Paterson, can decipher the music of the spheres. Vividly, the moon resembles a kind of cancer cell in the night sky, ringed in neon purple. The dead are living because the earth is slipping from its axis, due to our environmental disrespect, labeled here as “polar fracking.”
Eccentric comic book shops are shuttered. Family stores are dusty and run down. All vivid color has gone anemic bleached and gray. Only the hermit played by Tom Waits resides in a colorful, yet unruly forest of verdant green thick with wild mushrooms. The zombies chant for wifi and internet service. Every object in the film feels like a wake for the loss of color both in the artist’s personality and in art-making.
This is not a “zombie film” but a melancholy lament on the decline of the homemade art project. In a pulp form, these are ruminations on an apocalyptic losing of the self.
But if one only wishes to look on the surface there are enough macabre curios to ponder: Steve Buscemi is a racist red-hatted guy, irritated and befuddled by everything. Caleb Landry Jones is a painfully shy horror enthusiast. Tilda Swinton is an eerie Scot mortician who gives cadavers the feverish glam of “Interview” magazine and Iggy Pop is a glassy and gray zombie rocker who really wants sepia coffee.
Hermit Bob (Waits) and Ron are the voices of Jarmusch in the film. As events become untenable, Ron and Robertson are revealed to be their actual selves Bill Murray and Adam Driver. Or are they?
To Jarmusch, the valuable act is in the creating of illusion. Film itself originates as a plastic element in motion originating from our Imagination.
When Bob finds a buried copy of “Moby Dick” in the soil, it is like a human footprint: the word and the colorful image dancing before the eye, is everything.
“The Dead Don’t Die” is a requiem for all human creativity under the guise of Halloween.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org