Dead Man

Dead Man
Dead Man

Theatrical poster
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Produced by Demetra J. MacBride
Written by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Johnny Depp
Gary Farmer
Music by Neil Young
Cinematography Robby Muller
Editing by Jay Rabinowitz
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) May 26, 1995 (Cannes Film Festival premiere)
Running time 121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9,000,000 (est.)
Box office $1,025,488 (USA)

Dead Man is a 1995 American Western film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. It stars Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Michael Wincott, Lance Henriksen, and Robert Mitchum (in his final role). The film, dubbed an "Acid Western" by its director,[1] includes twisted elements of the Western genre. The film is shot entirely in black-and-white. Some consider it the ultimate postmodern Western, and related to postmodern literature such as Cormac McCarthy's novel, Blood Meridian.[2][3]



William Blake (Johnny Depp), an accountant from Cleveland, Ohio, rides by train to the frontier company town of Machine to assume a promised job as a bookkeeper in the town's namesake metal works. During the trip, a Fireman (Crispin Glover) warns Blake against the enterprise while passengers shoot buffalo from the train windows. Arriving in town, Blake discovers that his position has already been filled, and is driven from the workplace at gunpoint by John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum), the ferocious owner of the company. Jobless and without money or prospects, Blake meets Thel Russell (Mili Avital), a former prostitute who sells paper flowers. He lets her take him home. Thel's ex-boyfriend Charlie (Gabriel Byrne) surprises them in bed and shoots Blake, accidentally killing Thel when she tries to shield Blake with her body. A wounded Blake shoots and kills Charlie with Thel's gun before climbing dazedly out the window and fleeing Machine on a stolen pinto. Company-owner Dickinson, the father of Charlie, hires three legendary frontier killers, Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen), Conway Twill (Michael Wincott) , and Johnny "The Kid" Pickett (Eugene Byrd) to hunt down Blake as the murderer of his son and Thel, although he seems to care most about recovering the stolen horse.

Blake awakens to find a large American Indian (Gary Farmer) attempting to dislodge the bullet from his chest. The Indian, calling himself Nobody (a reference to The Odyssey), reveals that the bullet is too close to Blake's heart to remove, and Blake is effectively walking dead. When he learns Blake's full name, Nobody decides Blake is a reincarnation[4] of William Blake, a poet whom he idolizes but of whom accountant Blake himself is ignorant. Nobody resolves to escort Blake to the Pacific Ocean to return him to his proper place in the spirit-world. After discovering that Blake is being hunted, Nobody also determines to assist Blake in expanding his legend by killing as many more white men as may become necessary. Meanwhile, the most ferocious member of the bounty hunter posse, Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen), kills his comrades (eating one of them) and continues the hunt alone.

Blake and Nobody travel west, leaving a trail of dead and encountering wanted posters announcing higher and higher bounties for Blake's death or capture. Nobody sends Blake into a camp of psychotic fur trappers, whom he and Blake dispatch. Blake learns of Nobody's past, marked both by Native American and White racism, which includes Nobody's abduction to Europe as a model savage and subsequent return to America. Nobody leaves Blake alone in the wild when he decides Blake must undergo a vision quest. On his quest, Blake kills two U.S. Marshals, experiences visions of nature spirits, and grieves over the remains of a dead fawn that was killed accidentally by his pursuers. He paints his face with the fawn's blood and rejoins Nobody on their journey.

At a trading post, a bigoted missionary (Alfred Molina) identifies Blake and attempts to kill him, resulting in a shootout. Blake is shot again and his condition rapidly deteriorates. Nobody takes him by river to a Makah village and convinces the tribe to give him a canoe for Blake's ship burial. Blake deliriously trudges through the village before collapsing from his injuries. He awakens in a canoe on a beach, wearing Native American funeral dress. Nobody bids Blake farewell and pushes him out to sea. As he floats away, Blake watches Cole sneak up behind Nobody, but he is too weak to cry out and can only watch as the two shoot and kill each other. As Blake gazes up at the clouds for the last time, he dies and his canoe drifts out to sea.


Cultural allusions

There are multiple references in the film to the poetry of William Blake. Exaybachay[6] aka Nobody recites from several Blake poems, including Auguries of Innocence, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and The Everlasting Gospel. When bounty hunter Cole warns his companions against drinking from standing water, it references the Proverb of Hell (from the aforementioned Marriage), "Expect poison from standing water". Thel's name is also a reference to Blake's The Book of Thel. The scenes with Thel culminating in the bedroom murder scene visually enact Blake's poem, "The Sick Rose: "O rose, thou art sick!/ The invisible worm/ That flies in the night,/ In the howling storm,/ Has found out thy bed,/ Of crimson joy,/ And his dark secret love/ Does thy life destroy." The film's soundtrack album and promotional music video also features Depp reciting passages from Blake's poetry to the music composed by Neil Young for the film.

Although the film is set in the 19th century, Jarmusch included a number of references to 20th century American culture. Benmont Tench, the man at the campsite played by Jared Harris, is named after Benmont Tench, keyboardist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Billy Bob Thornton's character, Big George Drakoulias, is named for record producer George Drakoulias. The marshals chasing Blake are named Lee Hazlewood and Marvin Throne-berry, after Lee Hazlewood and Marv Throneberry, and it is also an allusion to the american actor Lee Marvin.[7] Nobody's name ("He Who Talks Loud, Saying Nothing") is a reference to the James Brown song Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing.[7]

Portrayal of Native Americans

This film is generally regarded as being extremely well researched in regard to Native American culture.[8]

Dead Man is also notable as one of the rather few films about Native Americans to be directed by a non-native and offer nuanced and considerate details of the individual differences between Native American tribes free of common stereotypes.[9] The film contains conversations in the Cree and Blackfoot languages, which were intentionally not translated or subtitled, for the exclusive understanding of members of those nations, including several in-jokes aimed at Native American viewers.[8]


The film was entered into the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.[10]

In its theatrical release, Dead Man earned about $1 million for a budget of $9 million.[11] It is the most expensive of Jarmusch's films, due, in part, to the costs of ensuring accurate period detail.

Critical responses were mixed to positive. Roger Ebert gave the film one-and-a-half stars (out of four stars maximum), noting "Jim Jarmusch is trying to get at something here, and I don't have a clue what it is".[12] Desson Howe and Rita Kempley, both writing for the Washington Post, offered largely negative appraisals.[13] Greil Marcus, however, mounted a spirited defense of the film, titling his review "Dead Again: Here are 10 reasons why 'Dead Man' is the best movie of the end of the 20th century."[14] Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum dubbed the film an acid western, calling it "as exciting and as important as any new American movie I've seen in the 90s"[15] and went on to write a book on the film, entitled Dead Man (ISBN 0-85170-806-4) published by the British Film Institute. The film scored a 'Fresh' 71% rating on website Rotten Tomatoes.

In July, 2010, New York Times chief film critic A. O. Scott caps a laudatory "Critics' Picks" video review of the film by calling it "One of the very best movies of the 1990s."[16]


Neil Young recorded the soundtrack by improvising (mostly on his electric guitar, with some acoustic guitar, piano and organ) as he watched the newly edited film alone in a recording studio. The soundtrack album consists of seven instrumental tracks by Young, with dialog excerpts from the film and Johnny Depp reading the poetry of William Blake interspersed between the music.

In other media

Gary Farmer makes a cameo appearance as Nobody in Jim Jarmusch's subsequent film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, in which he repeats one of his signature lines of dialog, "Stupid fucking white man!"

Johnny Depp makes a brief cameo as his character William Blake in the film L.A. Without a Map.

Rudy Wurlitzer's unproduced screenplay Zebulon inspired Jarmusch's film. Wurlitzer later re-wrote the screenplay as the novel The Drop Edge of Yonder (2008).[17][18]

See also


  1. ^ "Break with the past". The Age (Melbourne). September 10, 2005. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ In an interview Jarmusch states "For Nobody, the journey is a continuing ceremony whose purpose is to deliver Blake back to the spirit-level of the world. To him, Blake's spirit has been misplaced and somehow returned to the physical realm." [1]
  5. ^ "imdb". 
  6. ^ "imdb". 
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ a b Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2000). Dead Man. London: Cromwell Press. ISBN 0-85170-806-4
  9. ^ Lafrance, J. D. (5 October 2003). "Jim Jarmusch" (in English). Senses of Cinema. Victoria Australia: Film Victoria. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  10. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Dead Man". Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  11. ^ Dead Man (1995) - Box office / business
  12. ^ "Dead Man". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  13. ^ The Washington Post. January 28, 1997. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  14. ^ Salon Arts & Entertainment | Dead again
  15. ^ Chicago Reader Movie Review
  16. ^ The New York Times. 
  17. ^ "On the Drift: Rudy Wurlitzer and the Road to Nowhere". Joe O’Brien. Arthur. May 2008.
  18. ^ "How the West Was Fun". Erik Davis. Bookforum. April/May 2008.


  • Dead Man by Gino Moliterno
  • Pelzer, Peter. "Dead Man — an encounter with the unknown past," Journal of Organizational Change 15 (2002): 48-62.

External links

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