dead dont die

Did I only imagine that there was ever a certain profundity lurking behind the absurdity of Jim Jarmusch movies? As a young man, I approached the writer-director’s work with some respect; but, checking in on Jarmusch for the first time since 2005’s Broken Flowers, I just find myself wondering if there was ever a point to all this nonsense apart from propping up globohomo. Bill Murray and the other performers are always fun to watch, but I could never shake the feeling that this is a movie that should have been made fifteen years ago. A self-aware zombie-themed black comedy with a blasé approach to gore and the eerie? Is this non-novelty all that Jarmusch has left in his bag of tricks? At least he seems to be aware of his own obnoxiousness, as evidenced by the grouchy line he gives to Larry Fessenden’s motel owner: “Infernal hipsters with their irony.” Indeed.

3.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Dead Don’t Die is:

Gun-ambivalent. Firearms come in handy in dispatching zombie attackers until the undead finally become too numerous to shoot.

Feminist. In The Dead Don’t Die’s most tiresome cliché, Tilda Swinton plays a flawlessly kickass samurai mortician whose effortless, balletic swordplay makes Uma Thurman in Kill Bill look like the Gimp.

Multiculturalist and pro-miscegenation. “That girl’s part Mexican,” Adam Driver observes approvingly of Selena Gomez. “I have an affinity for Mexicans. They’re like my favorite people. I love Mexico. I’ve been down there twice.” Gomez is one of Fessenden’s “infernal hipsters”, and the exact nature of her relationship with her two traveling companions, a white man and a black man, is never made explicit, though the trio is shown checking into a single motel room with two beds.

Pro-black, as long as the blacks are just the harmless, imaginary creatures that live in Jarmusch’s imagination. RZA appears as a magically benevolent delivery driver, while Jahi Di’Allo Winston plays an environmentally conscious juvenile delinquent.

Green. The zombie outbreak is one of a number of disturbances in the natural order resulting from polar fracking. “A change in the earth’s rotation or its spin rate?” frets Jahi. “That’d be catastrophic for sure. All the cycles of the biosphere would be affected. The natural cycles of sunlight would be disrupted, plants wouldn’t grow, wind patterns would change, and tectonic activity […]”

Irreligious. “Dear Lord in Heaven, help us,” Fessenden cries just before the zombies eat him, no divine help having been forthcoming.

Anti-Trump, featuring Steve Buscemi as the obligatory bigot in the red “Keep America White Again” cap. At “payback time”, vagrant Tom Waits enjoys eating some chicken as he watches zombies attacking the racist Buscemi. Then, after Buscemi comes back as a zombie himself, Bill Murray kills him again, telling him, “You got this comin’.”

Anti-American, but in a boring, nebulous, not particularly intelligent or articulate way. “Centerville, USA,” Tilda Swinton observes sarcastically as she cruises the modest town’s zombie-filled streets: “A real nice place.” Centerville as depicted in The Dead Don’t Die is thus intended to serve as a microcosmic diagnosis of what plagues America. But what, fundamentally, is wrong with Americans in Jim Jarmusch’s assessment? “Remnants of the materialist people,” wise drifter Waits observes of the undead. “I guess they been zombies all along.” Warmed-over remnants of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, is more like it. With everything could have been said about the United States in 2019, Jarmusch zeroes in on … people in flyover country selling their souls for kitchen appliances and new trucks. What year is Jarmusch living in? Ultimately, none of the various thematic concerns come together in a coherent way, and The Dead Don’t Die primarily exists to listlessly entertain and run out the clock on middle-aged liberals and somnambulant stoners.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Drugs, Jungles, and Jingoism.