Jim Jarmusch is here to burn it all down.
Or, rather, he’s here to tell us it’s all burning down.
Jarmusch has been working in independent film going on 40 years now, and I would say his latest is a bit unexpected, except that’s what he tends to do—it’s the zombie movie The Dead Don’t Die, which stars Bill Murray alongside Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, and a bunch of other people you know.
As far as zombie movies go, the setup is pretty typical—unusual events have caused the dead to rise from their graves and feed on human flesh, and the police and residents in a small Pennsylvania town have to figure out how to survive. In this case, something called polar fracking has tilted the Earth off its axis, causing all sorts of problems, including reanimating the dead, although the U.S. Department of Energy constantly assures everyone polar fracking is a perfectly safe practice. This is, of course, an obvious metaphor for climate change, but I wouldn’t so much call it heavy-handed as I would say it’s aggressively unsubtle. And why should it be subtle? This is happening, Jarmusch tells us, this is the world we’re leaving for our kids, and we’re kind of all screwed.
There will be other zombie movies after this one, but there don’t need to be. Jarmusch takes the subtext of this and past movies and makes it overt—not just showing us how we’ve led to our own demise, but also explicitly addressing social ills and mass consumption. Again, why be cute about it? This is where we are and this is what we’ve done.
The Dead Don’t Die is a comedy, and a very funny one, although Jarmusch’s pace is so deliberate it won’t connect with everyone, and it does get a bit overly weird here and there. But it doesn’t mess around. This is a comedy, but it’s not hopeful. The last five words of the movie tell us all we need to know.