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Dead Man-starring Johnny Depp

Updated on July 1, 2010

"Dead Man," starring Johnny Depp, was directed by Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog, Broken Flowers) in 1995. Jarmusch, in his typical fashion, was able to build up his supporting cast with names like Robert Mitchum, John Hurt, Crispin Glover, Billiy Bob Thorton, Iggy Pop, Gabriel Byrne... and acquire Neil Young to do the soundtrack, playing his guitar in front of a screen.

Johhny Depp plays a character named "William Blake." He is not the William Blake, just a happy coincidence, which happens to save his life. He gets shot early on in this Western, and stumbles into the woods where he is saved by an Indian named "Nobody." Consistant with the movie's sensibilities and humor, "Nobody saves him."

It is made clear that in this place and time, Indian's will always take the opportunity to kill a "Stupid @#$%ing white man." Nobody, however, while a prisoner in England, was inspired by the poetry of William Blake, and believes this to be the William Blake, even if William Blake himself does not know it. He encourages William Blake to now write his poetry in blood, by killing white men. The wound from the bullet that William Blake received early on is close to the heart, and the whole movie is a struggle for life.

Jarmusch's surface level story is a reinvention of one of the many versions of the American Indian "Vision Quest," where the person will go into isolation while fasting, searching for a vision (and an animal.) Often it is a teenager moving to the next stage of their life, looking for their meaning/direction in life. Symbollically, as the vision quest begins, it represents two things: a metaphoric death (death and analysis of the negative attributes the person has,) and an entering of the womb (the gestation of the new attributes and direction.) As the vision quest comes to an end, it also represents two things: The symbolic birth of this new person, and the symbolic death of the old.

As Dead Man begins, William Blake is emotionally dead, weak, and close to non-existant. Not to give too much away, but it is only once he is shot that he begins to experience the world (gestates,) as he grows into an artist with a higher level of understanding and insight. Within this "real life" vision quest, William Blake also does a version of the traditional American Indian vision quest.

It is a very well written, tightly woven script, shot in black and white, with all around solid acting, and subtle humor. Although the shot list is pretty close to straight coverage, the story is engaging throughout, while Neil Young's music layers it with the perfect tone.


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    • film critic profile image

      film critic 7 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by girlincape. Yes, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time while it was playing in limited release in a few theatres. I saw it without knowing what it was. A very nice surprise. It is a great script with all great actors. It's not much as far as camera work. That is one area that Jarmusch has never invested the time, but this movie (unlike some of his others) doesn't really suffer from it.

    • girlincape profile image

      Kasey Rubenstein 7 years ago from California

      Wow, interesting! This is going on my netflix now.

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      I never saw this film, even though it was Johnny Depp! I should be ashamed! Glad I read the review here!