Jim Jarmusch is a fascinating individiual. His name perplexes, how are you supposed to say it? “Jar-mich”, “Jar-moosh”, and “Jar-mush” all seem to be passable pronunciations. His appearance resembles that of a scientist from a space opera; with pale features and wild, white hair. His 2016 art-house flick Paterson was one of the most captivating movies I’ve ever seen. It was the story of Paterson, (Played by Adam Driver) a bus driver living in Paterson New Jersey. He goes to work, goes to the bar, and comes home. Rinse and repeat for the rest of the movie, with some spoken word poetry thrown in the mix. Nothing much happens and the dialogue sometimes verges on bad “improv club pastiche” but I still respected the film for moving at a snail’s pace and depriving me of any rousing conflict; for forcing me to relax so to speak.
The Dead Don’t Die is a little bit like that. The film takes place in the Central Pennsylvanian town of Centerville (Its a real place, what a wacky state!) where folks listen to the radio at the local greasy spoon, old guys wear KAWA (Keep America White Again) hats unperturbed, and Cops drive around helping people out rather than arresting them.
When we open, weird stuff has been happening for who knows how long at this point. The skeptical locals have been attributing it to daylight savings time and not in fact, to the Earth being moved off of its axis.
Our main characters are Bill Murray and Adam Driver, the only two police officers in town who must repel the zombie invasion. I don’t want Driver to become typecast as the straight-laced law officer, (his character here resembles his role in last year’s BlacKKKlansman but I’ve got to admit he’s darn good at it. He and Murray are the perfect pair each popping off with lines dryer than the next. The rest of the world can lose their minds, these two hardly ever raise their voices.
Then there’s Sturgill Simpson’s role in this whole thing. He’s credited in the opening roll even though he only has a cameo. This is because his track “The Dead Don’t Die” is the theme song. It’s also a real song within the movie’s universe — people love it. Simpson’s appeal appears to transcend cultural and generational barriers. Its the perfect melodic representation of the movie; a subdued but apocalyptic steel guitar riff. “After life is over / the afterlife goes on!”. In an age of blockbusters that assert artistic status, this has got to be the funniest.
With its metahumor, tiny budget, and head-scratching ending — not to mention a cast that is stacked like pancakes — this film is clearly shooting for the “cult-classic” label. The point of the film can feel somewhat ambiguous at times as Jarmusch flirts with social justice motifs (climate change, racism, feminism, and child abuse) but then abandons them to joke about other things. Is the film suggesting that towns like Centerville are the problem? While the world is falling apart at the seams, they’re reaching for that second cup of diner coffee?
Maybe, but maybe not…I think it’s just a funny movie.