The Dead Don't Die
Annie Mcintosh | 26/09/2019
The first word spoken in The Dead Don’t Die made me laugh out loud. Coming from the mouth of the local constabulary confronted with a gruesome scene, which may or may not be the result of some wild animals, “yuck” comes through like a weirdo’s welcome from our fav deadpanning director. Naturally, this isn’t just some arthouse film - it’s a personal message from Jim Jarmusch.
In this caper to purgatory, Chloë Sevigny, Bill Murray and Adam Driver are town cops in friendly Centerville where it appears that some former residents are unexpectedly around again. The setting of the sun is also delayed and generally things just seem… “weird”. (While the situation soon worsens, the commentary stays about the same.) Slowly the news filters through that due to polar fracking, the Earth’s axis has shifted, and it’s having a serious effect on nature. Chiefly - now the dead aren’t.
Compared to the steady totality of his previous film’s subject and vision (Paterson), Jarmusch hasn’t worked too hard on smoothing out the edges of his craft this time around. The Dead Don’t Die seems more a product of getting talented mates together and pressing record than a manifestation of a rigorous artistic process. There’s even a couple of scenes where characters hold tête-à-têtes about the script.
Of course, this doesn’t erode an iota of viewing pleasure.
Jarmusch’s slow and modal exposition – typically shown through his proclivity for strange but relatable drifts in dialogue, hokey catchphrases and overtly spotlighting his own current musical obsessions - crashes into the most urgent obsession of our time: ya know, the end of the world. But if anything, Jarmusch has responded by indulging conversational tangents and savouring artful takes.
In one scene Driver’s character squeals to a halt in the carpark of a local-diner-cum-crime-scene in a red Smart, the perfect antithesis to the American cinematic trope of the hero in a cool car (although not to worry cos Salima Gomez shows up in one later.) Seemingly for the somatic pleasure alone of watching the gorgeous mess of Driver’s blank face, his character intones to cop colleagues that his car “fits two quite nicely.” Actually.
There are zombies around but it’s less of a zombie movie than a philosophical response to humanity’s materialist death march. The undead drag their prior life’s obsessions around like personality substitutes as brainless demands for wifi and chardonnay creak from crushed vocal chords. Outside the general store a zombie Gen Z contingent kill for Red Bull.
These zombies are lethargic and, as former Centerville neighbours, ancestors or just visiting hipsters from Cleveland, deserve a little respect. As such they’re often only something to be swerved around on the road while discussing Sturgill Simpson’s latest album.
But slowly, in the face of futility, each character is rendered to an essence. Whether it be love, the good fight or the fruits of scientific observation, the enduring forms of human legacy are touched upon before, well, things end badly.
Go see it, even though you know what’s coming.