If ever there was a 'give away' movie title then Dead Man would be a contender right alongside Lone Survivor. Dead Man is ostensibly about William Blake (Johnny Depp), a fastidious and uptight accountant who has traveled a long way under the promise of employment, only to discover that once he's reached what's the end of the Earth for all intents and purposes, that he has no job waiting for him. All alone, lost and broke, William quickly finds himself in a confrontation which leaves him seriously wounded and dead bodies in his wake. William flees the scene and meets an eccentric Indian called Nobody (Gary Farmer) who seemingly helps nurse him back to health. While the rich father of one of William's victims hires three notorious killers to catch him, dead or alive, William finds himself in a fight for survival.
This is where Dead Man takes a very distinct turn towards the surrealistic, depending on how you choose to look at it, because it's very hard, if not impossible, to pinpoint exactly when the Dead Man actually does die. Dead Man is full of metaphors and spiritual subtext, so much so that it can be difficult to tell where reality ends, and the mystical begins. Dead Man is shot in black and white and the tone of the movie is slow, but hypnotizing, and is occasionally interrupted by brief moments of extreme violence, kind of like a Quentin Tarantino movie. This leaves us with a beautifully mesmerizing vibe, yet a brutal and unforgiving atmosphere that's populated by memorable degenerates.
William Blake transforms himself into the warrior poet just as Nobody had predicted he would, a poet who writes with a gun and uses blood for ink. Inevitably, William Blake's health worsens as he begins to experience a transcendent journey towards death. Only I'm not sure when his journey began exactly, was everything he experienced various stages of purgatory, or was it all real, or none of it? Did Nobody really exist? I don't take it as entirely meta-physically as some people do, although it's an undeniably spiritual and ontological movie that you can infer all sorts of meanings and allusions from.
The score, while mostly fitting, could feel overbearing at times and could disturb the mood more than it did enhance it. Dead Man's structure also felt micro-episodic, constantly and quickly, blacking in and out of various situations and states of mind. It fractured the narrative for me, with its momentum stopping and starting on a whim. Dead Man is a movie that you could dissect, write essays about and discuss for hours afterwards, if you like these sorts of existential movies of course.
What you take away from Dead Man will probably be more of a reflection of your own character, than it will William Blake's. Watch Dead Man when you're in a meditative and contemplative mood, and I think you'll find it fascinating and charming, in its own kind of quirky way. Dead Man is not a movie that gives answers, it asks questions. Whether or not you like that sort of thing in a movie will largely decide if you'll like this movie, I think. I just watched it alone on a rainy night, and found it enthralling, intriguing and absorbing. I got a little bit of a Coen Brothers vibe from Dead Man as well, which is always a plus.
Written by - The Sentry - 18/07/2015