What do you get if Jim Jarmusch makes a zombie movie? Of course it would be called The Dead Don’t Die. You get Jim Jamusch’s version of The Walking Dead, that’s what you get.
I went to see The Dead Don’t Die having read a bunch of mixed to negative reviews, and maybe one good one. It has the worst reviews of Jim Jarmusch’s career. You’d think he had brain damage or took a dump in those critics’ cornflakes or something.
When you see a Jim Jarmusch movie, don’t complain that it’s a Jim Jarmusch movie. He’s an entire genre unto himself. You’re either along for the ride or you’re not.
Here We Go Again With the Zombies
The plot is a zombie movie plot. A small town called Centerville (obvious name) experiences the zombie apocalypse when the Earth tilts off its axis due to polar fracking. The sheriff and his deputy are ill-prepared. Things go badly. The story hops between the Sheriff and the deputy, the odd Scottish mortician, the local racist and the hermit in the woods. People get bitten. Things go badly, as Adam Driver’s deputy keeps saying.
Zombie stories are limited in scope. Zombies are not subtle. Zombies are obvious metaphors. They represent mindless activity, mindless consumerism, mindless routine, the mindless mob, how humanity cannibalizes itself. Jarmusch admires George Romero’s zombie movies but does not care about the zombie genre at all, and it shows. He admits as much in the Rolling Stones interview.
Jim Jarmusch movies are not about plot. They’re about meandering character moments and deadpan, repetitive jokes. They’re about visual and verbal non-sequiturs that make silliness look cool. The Dead Don’t Die is arch, knowing, glib and droll. It’s like if a hipster Ozu make The Walking Dead. Jarmusch has no interest in the soap opera emo histrionics of that show. He probably hasn’t even seen it or read the comic. He’s picking up the zombie genre like a used toy on the ground and playing with it as he pleases. Jarmusch doesn’t care if you like It or not.
It’s All About the Moments, Man
A Jim Jarmusch movie is about the character moments. Adam Driver and Bill Murray trying to out-deadpan each other is worth an entire movie by itself. Tom Waits plays Jarmusch’s mouthpiece — a crusty, sage hermit in the woods watching the world end and commenting on it. Iggy Pop emerges from a grave marked Samuel Fuller (one of Jarmusch’s favourite directors). Steve Buscemi as the local hated racist named Frank Miller. Selena Gomez leads a small band of hipsters driving a car that’s a replica of the one from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Adam Driver constantly breaks the 4th Wall and reminding us they’re in a movie. Tilda Swinton plays an oddly knowing Scottish mortician with a katanna not because Jarmusch is ripping off Micchone — he just loves Samurai movies.
The movie is bleak and pessimistic. All zombie stories are. A real anger boils and bubbles Under all the deadpan humour. Jarmusch has no interest in making points about politics. His outrage is over government complacency towards impending catastrophic climate change. The zombies represent the end of the world, the inevitable fall into chaos and entropy. Tom Waits provides a ham-fisted running commentary spelling it all out. He’s like that guy in the corner of the bar at 1am describing everything we’re already seeing in front of us. But it’s Tom Waits saying all of this.
The Dead Don’t Die is bleak, but it’s hipster bleak. You’re either hip to the vibe or you’re not. Doesn’t matter. We’re all doomed anyway. It’s going to end badly. We might as well carry on and take our best shot.
The Dead Don’t Die is now in theaters across the US.