The Dead Don’t Die is a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie, which means it’s not your typical zombie movie. Sure, there are brain-dead zombies who slowly roam around a small town occasionally eating the civilians innards while other locals try to stop them, but Jarmusch has more on his mind than just that. Jarmusch wants to let us know the world is going to end, even when it is right in front of our faces.
The Dead Don’t Die takes place in the town of Centerville, a small podunk town in middle-of-nowhere America that has one diner, one gas station, and one police station with three cops: Officer Cliff (Bill Murray), Officer Ronnie (Adam Driver), and Office Mindy (Chloë Sevigny). The town is also filled with cooky characters, like Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) and the new mortician in town, Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who’s bizarre accent and attitude has the town confused as to who or what she is. One evening, two zombies (Iggy Pop and Sara Driver) arise from the local grave and kill a helpless waitress and cashier at the local diner. Ronnie immediately assumes that it was zombies who did this heinous act, not a wild animal or multiple wild animals as Cliff and Mindy suggest. Unsure of what to do, the town is invaded by more and more zombies and the cops try do their best to try and stop them, even if Ronnie continuously mutters, “This ain’t gonna end well.”
Don’t expect Dawn of the Dead or The Walking Dead with this one. Jarmusch made a zombie movie that is quiet, funny, weird, at times incredibly violent, at times incredibly slow, and in a surprising turn, self-aware. The characters in the film, at least Cliff and Ronnie, know that they are in a movie, so much so that the two acknowledge how much they’ve read of Jarmusch’s script (Ronnie read the whole thing, Cliff only read his parts, which kind of makes sense for Driver and Murray as actors). This is a very weird turn in an already weird movie, but there is a point here and that is the obliviousness to evil and oblivious to the end. Through television news segments about polar fracking, a weird light rotating around the moon, zombies taking over the town, and even knowing the end of the script, the characters still can’t stop and won’t stop what is coming for them. In our current state, with American being torn in half, global warming, and everything else that is bad happening around us, we were warned about all of this. We were told about the effects of global warming, we knew what Donald Trump would do as President, and we saw the hate growing within this country and yet, we did nothing about it and must face the consequences. Jarmusch is showing us the end of the world, and it’s our fault.
The cast of the film is filled with some great actors working today and some Jarmusch favorites. Murray and Driver are perfection. Murray, playing Cliff like a police officer who only does his job at half speed, gives a very dry, yet very funny performance. Driver proves that he is the best at playing people who are good at what they do, a kind of performance we take for granted. He also banters with Murray well and has some great line delivery. Other cast members, like Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Caleb Landry Jones, and Selena Gomez all have moments to shine here. But the true stand-out is Swinton, who gives one of my favorite performances of 2019. Zelda is an otherworldly figure, with a bizarre form of walking, incredibly pasty skin, and always wielding a ninja sword, you cannot take your eyes off of her. Nothing has brought me more joy in 2019 than watching Zelda use her ninja sword to decapitate zombies with beauty and grace.
In a scene early in The Dead Don’t Die, Dean (Wu-Tang Klan’s RZA), a Wu-PS driver (that’s right, not UPS, but Wu-PS, for the man part of the Wu-Tang. Easily my favorite inside joke of the movie) tells the gas station clerk (Caleb Landry Jones), “The world is perfect, appreciate the details.” In the eyes of Jarmusch and The Dead Don’t Die, the world isn’t going to be around that much longer, so notice its beauty while we can, even if it was us who destroyed it.
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