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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

‘Dead Man’: A Surrealistic Western Odyssey from the Venerable Jim Jarmusch

Movie poster for Jim Jarmusch's film Dead Man starring Johnny Depp

“Dead Man” (1995) is a surrealistic and absorbing 19th Century western starring Johnny Depp as William Blake, an accountant who sets out from Cleveland via steam train for the frontier town of Machine, in order to fulfill a promising accounting position.

Arriving to the stark desert town, Blake is informed that the accountant role has already been filled, and is forcibly driven from the premises by the firm’s capricious owner Dickinson (Robert Mitchum). Left aimless and forlorn, Blake makes the acquaintance of a prostitute named Thel (Mili Avital), whose incursion into Blake’s affairs ultimately proves to be direly fateful. A victim of highly unfortunate circumstances, Blake soon finds himself on the run alongside a Native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer)—both of them pursued intently by a trio of legendary killers.

Written and directed by esteemed indie auteur Jim Jarmusch, “Dead Man” is a somber and dreamlike creation, punctuated with sequences of dark comedy, hallucinatory enlightenment and often savage violence. Given a major shot in the arm by a warmly somber score composed by Neil Young, its a poetic and intoxicating metaphysical odyssey—and one of the absolute highlights of 90’s era independent cinema.


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