1001 Films: Dead Man (1995)

There are more times than I care to admit where I walk into a film with the best of intentions, an open mind and an open heart, but at the end of the day leave it not sure if I hated it or just didn’t understand it. Most of the time I will give the film the benefit of the doubt and blame myself in some way; whether it be personal preference, not being in the right frame of mind or I just didn’t get it. I know that saying any of the above are just cop outs, a film’s job is the inform/entertain/affect me in some way, but when all a film can do is baffle me with no positive feelings at all I really have to question what the point of it was.

The truth of the matter is that this is a film that I should love. It’s a post-modern western where instead of doing what all the classics do which is to glorify the west and make living there seem a little too easy we get a real stripped down realistic version of the West. Just like Meek’s Cutoff and Unforgiven – two films I love – it does that very same thing with our expectations of a western film. However, with this movie we’re given in addition to it all of the aforementioned post-modern western we’re given, what I can only believe is an existential piece about William Blake (Johnny Depp) and I’m still not if that’s what this movie was about.

The literal plot of the film is that William Blake, after reaching Machine (that’s the name of a town) for a job has discovered that this job is no longer available to him and ends up in a situation where he must defend himself and kill the son of his almost employer. He then goes on the run and ends up travelling with an educated Native American Indian, Nobody (Gary Farmer), and goes on a killing spree throughout the woods to stay alive and one step ahead of the bounty hunters tracking him down. However, I personally believe that William Blake is a man that’s already dead and this film represents some form of purgatory that he must exist in before he can head into his soul’s final destination. I can say that there isn’t much evidence to support this theory, other than Jarmusch’s very weird style of storytelling, but I think it’s there.

Rating: 2.5/10