After planetary disaster strikes the planet one naturally turns to country-music for solace. Wouldn’t you? I would. The country song used in Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” was written by Grammy-nominated country music singer Sturgill Simpson for the movie and keeps making an encore throughout the film. The song is a mantra, something for the inhabitants of a small American town named Centerville to hold on to, as everything else around them falls apart. “The Dead Don’t Die” opened the 2019 Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday.
The earth has been knocked off its rotary axe, watches have stopped working, dead bodies are piling up and the ghouls are coming. Welcome to Trump’s America, is what Jarmusch may have intended for us to inflect. It’s the America of addictions, the America of materialism, of racism, of isolationism and of fake news. For by the middle of “The Dead Don’t Die,” unless you’re one of the living dead yourself, it’d be hard not to draw parallels between the events taking place in Centerville and what they represent in the Trumpian age. They are drawn out in thick fluorescent marker. Jarmusch is our intellectual auteur, but he doesn’t seem to think much of his audience’s abilities.
Is he in a kind of declining state? After “Paterson” and the strange miscalculation in the person of Golshifteh Farahani being added in the cast, it’s nice to see the old JJ’s Gang back again, from RZA (playing a delivery man for WU-Ps!) to Iggy Pop (you’ll find out in time, be patient), from Tom Waits, who plays a hermit living in the woods who does double-duty as narrator and one-man Greek choir and to the director’s muse himself, Bill Murray, in the role of the town’s sheriff. Newcomers to Jarmusch’s world include, Chloe Sevigny in the role of a deputy sheriff and Selena Gomez as an itinerant hipster from Cleveland. Adam Driver, who appeared in the previously-mentioned Paterson, plays the Sheriff’s right-hand deputy, more stone-faced and forgettable than ever. Tilda Swinton plays a Scottish undertaker.
Overtly-conspicuous parallels aside, the joy of “Dead” is in the dialogues (Jarmusch wrote them). It’s small-town folk-worthy and generally delivered in poker-faced monotone but since this is a Jarmusch movie, there are inuendos, tongue-in-cheek replies, breaking of the fourth wall, movie cinephilia references, commentary on hipster irony, all of which make for delightfully funny moments. “Dead” is a treasure hunt for people in want of a visual language with which to decipher our America gone berserker. All the signs and symbols pointing to our unraveling society are present in “Dead.” Will you be able to find all of them?
The aforementioned sherif’s crew, which takes up about 100% of the action, are used to inquiring who stole chickens from the local farmer (Steve Buscemi, in full MAGA-mode), nothing too exciting going on around these here parts. So when they discover two bodies in the local diner with their entrails ripped out, it’s a new milestone. And thus begins their clumsy inquiry into who could be behind the murders.
Jarmusch has directed a funny and manichean, if overly caricatural, take on Trump’s America. But then, Trump’s America has become caricatural, in many ways.
“The Dead Don’t Die” had its red carpet (or “gala”) premiere, with two other Cannes Festival screens showing it, but that’s not all. In a bid to throw the festival’s doors open, the opening ceremony, which preceded this screening, and the movie itself, was beamed into six hundred theaters across France.