Dead Man (film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
Dead Man.jpg

Dead Man is an acid/existential Western by Jim Jarmusch, released in 1995. The main character is an out-of-work accountant from back East (played by Johnny Depp) named William Blake, though the name is purely coincidental. He goes to a frontier town on the promise of a job, but once there finds the position already taken. He accidentally kills the son of the most powerful man in town (played by Robert Mitchum) and is forced to run for his life, with a bullet in the chest.

While trying to evade the bounty hunters and Pinkerton agents who are after him, he meets Nobody, a solitary and surprisingly erudite Native American who believes him to be the ghost of the poet William Blake.

Not to be confused with the DC Comics character of the same name.


Tropes used in Dead Man (film) include:
  • The Alleged Steed: Mr. Dickinson's Pinto, which he wants back in addition to wanting his son's killer dead. The others, quite naturally, mock him behind his back for it.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: This is what Nobody expects William Blake to do, whether he wants to or not.
  • Arc Words: "Have you got any tobacco?"
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Mr. Dickinson, the boss of Machine. He seems to carry a shotgun around with him at all times, and even uses it to threaten the three baddest bounty hunters in the west into taking his assignment. This was Robert Mitchum's final role.
  • Banned in China: The Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification banned the film initially, considering a brief (i.e. 4 seconds) scene where a woman is being held at gunpoint while fellating a man to be gratuitous sexual violence. The distributors then delivered a prompt "what the fuck, idiots?" to the review board, who passed it with the R18+ rating.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Uses Cree and Blackfoot without subtitles. Cree has some choice insults.
  • Blade of Grass Cut
  • Bounty Hunter: Three of them, all insane to varying degrees and killed off in inverse order to the height of their insanity.
  • Catch Phrase: Nobody's is, "Stupid fucking white man!" He even gets to say it in Jarmusch's next film Ghost Dog.
  • City Slicker: The protagonist is a quintessential tenderfoot. At first.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Shot in beautiful black-and-white, like an Ansel Adams photo.
  • Derailed Fairy Tale: See page listing.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Much of Nobody's dialogue in the film. "You don't stop the clouds by building a ship." His favorite poet is William Blake and Jarmusch felt that many of Blake's aphorisms sounded similar to Native American spiritualism.
  • Downer Ending: Shouldn't come as a surprise given the film's title and the fact that the protagonist is mortally wounded by the end of the first act.
  • Foreshadowing

Trainman: I wouldn't trust no words written down on no piece of paper, especially from no Dickinson out in the town of Machine... you're just as likely to find your own grave! (shots ring out)

  • Everything Trying to Kill You
  • Gorn: Deliberately subverted. Scenes of violence are staged as brief, awkward, and nausea-inducing; the camera lingers sadly over the outcome.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Thel is an ex-hooker turned paper flower maker, and takes Blake in when he has nowhere to go. It turns out to be a bad idea for both of them.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Cole Wilson.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "What if they try to kill me?" "Nobody will observe."
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted multiple times in the film, but played straight with Thel. Charlie shoots her in the chest, and she immediately falls over dead without any final throes.
  • Mad Oracle: The train fireman.
  • Magical Native American: Nobody exists in the film to escort a white man on his spirit journey, but this is justified by Nobody's fleshed-out background and beliefs.
  • Magic Realism: Blake's trip to the ocean is basicaly a spiritual journey into the afterlife taking place in the real world. Even before Blake gets shot, the film presents a dream-like, otherworldy level of reality.
  • Meaningful Name: William Blake, Dickinson, Nobody, etc.
  • Mind Screw: From the very first scene to the very last moment.
  • Mutual Kill: Nobody and Cole Wilson.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The town of Machine is just as soulless of an industrial town as you'd imagine.
  • Noble Savage: Nobody describes how he was raised and presented in white society as one of these.
  • Not in This For Your Revolution: "Look, I've had it up to here with this Indian malarkey."
  • One-Scene Wonder: Pretty much half the cast. Highlights include Crispin Glover as a creepy train fireman, Robert Mitchum in his last notable role as John Dickinson, John Hurt as his secretary, Gabriel Byrne as his son and Alfred Molina as a racist trading post missionary, as well as Billy Bob Thornton, Jared Harris and Iggy Pop(!) as a trio of deranged hicks.
  • Pinkerton Detective: Two of them, both of whom get killed.
  • Popcultural Osmosis: Most of the "Indian sayings" Nobody uses are actually quotations from the poet William Blake.
  • Pop Star Composer: Neil Young provides a soundtrack that's entirely improvised on electric guitar.
  • Psycho for Hire: Cole Wilson, the cannibal bounty hunter. He's so bad that he kills his two infamous colleagues just for annoying him, and eats the second.
  • River of Insanity: The whole trip is a journey into the madness of the American soul. Blake must be put on a boat to cleanse him and prepare him for the journey to the afterlife as the surroundings get weirder and darker and more dangerous the further he goes into the wilderness. And then to top it off, there's the opening railroad journey, piloted by Crispin Glover:

Trainman: Look out the window. And doesn't this remind you of when you were in the boat, and then later than night, you were looking up at the ceiling, and the water in your head was not dissimilar from the landscape, and you think to yourself, "Why is it that the landscape is moving, but the boat... is still?" And also... where is it that you're from?
Blake: [describes his journey]
Trainman: Machine! (Scare Chord) That's the end of the line!

Wilson: Looks like a goddam religious icon.

  • World Half Empty: Westernized society is shown to be corrupt and cruel, epitomized by the awful industrial town of "Machine." Unusually, Native society isn't idealized in comparison.