By Bradley Lane
Jim Jarmusch has made a name for himself in the arthouse film community over the past forty years by consistently producing quality reflections on American culture, relationships between different types of people and the banality of day-to-day life. In his newest outing, he reflects on those same themes with a more depressive conclusion, with a much funnier delivery.
“The Dead Don’t Die” is a massive ensemble cast of nearly every actor Jarmusch has previously worked with, including, but not limited to, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover and Selena Gomez. It focuses on the citizens of the small town of Centerville as the zombie apocalypse unfolds around them. Each group of people decides how to handle these trying times to varying degrees of success, as Jarmusch deploys biting satire aimed at consumer culture, film-making tropes and how unsettlingly addicted to daily routines we all are.
First and foremost, “The Dead Don’t Die” is hilarious. I consistently get gut-busting laughter from start to finish when I share it with friends. Specifically, Adam Driver and Bill Murray are comedic gold whenever they share screen time. Their humor is so effortless and natural you cannot help but fall in love with their inept but well-meaning characters.
Jarmusch uses zombies not only to pay tribute to the genre but also to make comments about the rampant consumerism in American culture. The zombies are not so subtly coded as mindless consumers focused only on their favorite candy brand, eating human flesh or even finding free wifi. This, of course, is in homage to George Romero’s original zombie flick, “Night of the Living Dead.” A film that used zombies to represent the failings of a culture obsessed with products.
“The Dead Don’t Die” also relentlessly mocks modern film tropes. Characters and television newscasters give the same expository dialogue over and over to mock writers who don’t trust audiences to keep up with the story. It is supremely self-aware but never in a way that feels cheap or overdone. Jarmusch cleverly mocks our daily life by interrupting his character’s life with untold disaster, yet all anyone can think about is how best to maintain the status quo. It is a timely observation about a world saturated with 24/7 media coverage of constant natural disasters, near-monthly mass shootings and an ongoing global pandemic.
“The Dead Don’t Die” is both an audience pleaser and a smartly constructed film by an auteur with a meaningful, albeit sad, outlook on modern America. “The Dead Don’t Die” is available to stream on HBO Max.