The Disorder of Civilization
Dead Man is a western psychedelic film about a journey into a spiritual purgatory yet accurate cinematic depiction of Native American culture, identity, and spirituality. It is undermining and reversing misconceptions about traditional stereotypes in film and literary media. The conception of noble savages is an ancient idea of savage aristocrats, claiming that primitive people such as Native Americans share no culture. Consequently, it is not corrupted, in terms closer to the disorder of nature than human civilization, explains Jim Jarmusch realizing figuratively during creation.
Native American’s Stereotype
As well as reversing a stereotype of Native American, Native and American culture, the most cultural and educational film character is Nobody. He is a Native American. The white settler, as well as the protagonist, Blake, is in a position of ignorance. There is no reading of Blake’s poetry apart from William Blake’s character, never understanding the references, quotes, and bibliography. In Dead Man, the white settlers act like savages, with the Machine’s city as a harsh and inhuman environment. It is white people killing, raping, and committing adultery. The idea of savage aristocrats and the journey into the spiritual purgatory is a stark and vital theme in Dead Man.
The Journey of the Outsiders
From time to time, films and literary and artistic works do not change by themselves. But, it travels over time and almost influence each other’s relevance. Not so with Dead Man; however, Jarmusch exposes a beautiful yet shocking picture of a combination of destructive’s act cruelty along with the masters’ emotional power of more than two decades. Dead Man tells the story of the journey of two outsiders (William Blake and Nobody) into the spiritual purgatory. Blake travels from the city of Machine, the mid-nineteenth century border post in front of the Industrial Revolution. Spending his savings on train tickets from hometown Cleveland, Blake believes that a job as an accountant for Dickinson Metalworks awaits. Twisty, everyone else has gotten there first. After the dry office manager taunts Blake, a self-inflating industrial giant hangs a life-size portrait of himself behind his desk.
The starving population scavenged for food and demanded work shooting at gunpoint in the alleyways, including personage. Blake is in the bed of a weary paper florist, watching helplessly as his jealous girlfriend shoots a single bullet at the two. She died, but Blake took the gun they had previously played with, killing his girlfriend with three shots. Badly injured, he fled the house through the open window. Blake, at this point, was no longer making rational decisions.
Breaking the Settler’s View
Native American characters speak Cree; the language used is meticulous but accurate, as does the inclusion of traditional Native American clothing. Jarmusch reverses a noble savage allusion by not giving it a literal meaning of the Native language. He does not provide cultural products in engaging a western white audience and further challenges claim knowledge. Actively, Dead Man tries to break away from the settler’s voyeuristic view. In exchange, it offered a cultural exit for Native Americans. Thus, it is a Native American narrative telling and involves fairy tales from a different perspective.
The Western universe’s representation seems like a new experience defining new landscapes and opportunities for Blake, at least. The West is a wilderness but full of violence and fear from the wrong side of humans. Death, angles, and weapons on all sides overwhelm Blake, forcing him to use force in the wild even when he falls in love with a local woman. He accidentally confuses himself after suffering an injury and damages his memory by sharing his passion for nature with his namesake.
A Native American told him many interesting stories about him as if they approached transcendentalism or spiritualism. He saw the future black cloud gloomy, and metal machines also saw the death of nature. Speaking of nature’s death, Blake experiences himself as a mythical hero, apart from learning about spiritual metaphysics and associating spiritual life with experiencing the ego’s emptiness. He decided to make his life close to the ground to prepare his new identity in nature.
Jim Jarmusch’s Realism
Jarmusch was born in Ohio, a thriving but heavily fortified state with a steel economy and heavy manufacturing. As Blake went west, Jarmusch went east where he studied English literature at Columbia University, writing poetry by two of his teachers: poets Kenneth Koch and David Shapiro. He fell in love with cinema, returned to New York, enrolled in graduate film school, and made his first feature, Permanent Vacation following Stranger Than Paradise. Jarmusch defines cinematic style elements, mainly flat humor, elliptical editing, and deliberate framing, setting his films apart from the test realism in American independent films.
Dead Man describes the existential solitude of an individual, alien to the vast landscape. William Blake, wherever he goes, is a monkey where he looks for a banana. The frozen lake’s image almost turning white in a blizzard looks like a preview of dense forest and empty clearing. Blake would have left if he did have Nobody as a guide, like a lost youth. The blackout separates each sequence in black and white as if a verse of poetry rhythmically marks a rising or falling note.
Jarmusch’s understanding of Dead Man is like the presence of spiritual purgatory towards the awareness and journey of religious colonialism. During the American occupation, religious figures such as the Jesuits accompanied expeditions and attempted to change the people they found. In their viewpoint and attempt to save the lost souls of savage lords, Dead Man saves William Blake’s soul. No man led him to spiritual transcendence in line with the Native American worldview.
During the search for the vision, Blake reaches the end of peace with his environment and takes place outside the western paradigm. Dead Man taking place entirely outside the typical framework of the colonial endeavor is, in itself, a rare feat of an award. William Blake was an American accountant and English poet of the 18th and 19th centuries. The form of Blake’s ecstatic poetry is very unusual, a spiritual figure rejecting religion in favor of alternative spirituality. Nobody frequently quotes him throughout the film because a free spirit and free mind can escape from forced Western culture’s trappings to Native American society.
The Mental Confusion of Press Screening
While he wrote Dead Man in many interviews, Jarmusch explains that he took a break from studying Native American texts to reread Blake, the American Beat artist, and the writer’s profound mysticism. Blake is also a printer by trade with a reproductive device. He can publish his work whenever he wants. In contrast, he also maintains his independence through ownership by keeping the negative side of the theme. Jarmusch acquired the distribution rights to Dead Man upon completion, forcing him to re-edit. Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein was so outraged by Jarmusch’s refusal that he sabotaged the release by severely limiting press screenings and refusing to endorse the film for awards. However, Dead Man emerged as one of America’s top films of the decade.
Jarmusch discovers between Native American writing and Blake’s poetry sparking Nobody’s backstory and the Dead Man’s delirious narrative arrogance. When Nobody was a child, white traders kidnapped and put him into a circus show on a trip to Europe. Nobody learned English and fell in love with Blake’s poetry. He is sure that he is the poet’s samsara from Blake, even though his namesake has never heard of him. He found it odd that Blake did not recognize or even the most famous lines in his poetry. However, Nobody believes that William Blake’s poetry comes out of the barrel of the gun. Bounty hunters chase after them while traveling across the Southwest through California redwood forests up the West Coast.
The Dead Man
Dickinson’s son is the one who shot Blake and killed him to buy himself his father’s desire for revenge has a long reach. Most hapless but crazy assassins kill Blake or Nobody, but the famous cannibal, Cole Wilson, is tireless. In the end, everyone died after Nobody negotiated with the Makah tribe to the northwest; the totem hut looked like an outpost of the late civilization. They take Blake into a canoe and take him to a place beyond the horizon where no one would call the world’s next level. For Blake, this world will no longer be a concern. There was a brief turning corner cut to Nobody and Cole as they shot each other dead.
The role of Dead Man’s liminality is a period of transition between two stable phases. In the anthropological study of ritual, the titular Dead Man as Blake is the liminal space between life and death. The living world with a bullet in the heart got rid of him in human form. Dead Man is an experience about a liminal, ended by his death at the end of the story. In the same sense, Nobody is in a position between Native Americans and westernized identity experiencing rejection of family and tribe. Jarmusch denotes the liminal space, marking the human experience between death and life, where the expertise keeps a period of transition and change.
Dead Man is a brief story about the symbolism of Native American depictions of a fleeting gain over existence and nihilism. Robby Müller, Dead Man’s cinematographer, formulated a realm of pure gray and, in so doing, reflects the complexity of living things, not entirely good or bad. However, temporarily and in between, they also depict the natural ambiance of beauty in awe at every turn. Transcendent Blake, squatting beside a child separated by an arrow piercing his chest, touched the wound until he felt it and rubbed it into the blood seeping from his own body. The last sound he hears is a moving portrait and straight, a lyricist representing nothing less than a sheep and a bell.
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- Taubin, A. (2018). Dead Man: Blake in America. The Current | The Criterion Collection.