Jim Jarmusch on set

Dead Man, shot in 1995, is directed by the New York independent film maker Jim Jarmusch, whose other films (Down By Law, Night on Earth, Mystery Train) focus on urban life and communication in postmodern America. His films are populated by people living on the fringes of society and struggling for survival. This also holds true for Dead Man, but its setting and the use of the Western genre are quite unique in Jarmusch's career. Dead Man, set some time in the 1870s, stars Johnny Depp as William Blake, a young greenhorn from Cleveland, who is on his way to a Western frontiertown called Machine in pursuit of a job in the local metalworks. Upon arrival, he finds that Mr. Dickinson (Robert Mitchum in his last role), his intimidating prospective boss, has already filled the position. Unsure of what to do next, he goes out to drink and eventually finds himself in the home of Thel, a local girl selling paper roses.
They end up in bed, and Thel's former lover, who later turns out to be Mr. Dickinson's son, walks in on them. A shootout occurs, and both Thel and her ex-lover are killed, while Blake is "merely" mortally wounded. In the process of his escape, which is guided by an Indian outcast calling himself Nobody (Gary Farmer, a Cayuga Indian from Toronto), he becomes an outlaw and kills everybody who seems to be in his way. Nobody, who believes that Blake is the reincarnated English poet William Blake, considers it his duty to send him back to the spirit world. He takes him to his former home village, a Native settlement on the North west Pacific coast, where he beds him in a bark that carries him away from the Kwakiutl settlement and eventually drifts off into the sunset.

Characters & Actors

Jarmusch never chooses the actors who play in his films by accident. Robert Mitchum one of THE icons of Western and Film Noir plays the most dangerous and influential character in the film, namely Dickinson; John Hurt plays a cynic worker in Dickinson's firm. The main character, Johnny Depp, as Jarmusch himself comments, "starts off being such an innocent. He's just so clean at the beginning that you want to graffiti all over him". Other characters are musical puns: two of the killers are namend Cole Wilson and Johnny "The Kid" Pickett; one minor character is called Benmont Tench after one of Tom Petty's "Heartbreakers". "He who talks loud saying nothing", Nobody's name, is from one of Jarmusch's favourite James Brown songs.  

The Cast

William Blake ............................. JOHNNY DEPP

Nobody ..................................... GARY FARMER

Cole Wilson .................................LANCE HENRIKSEN

Conway Twill .............................. MICHAEL WINCOTT

Thell Russell ............................... MILI AVITAL

Salvatore "Sally" Jenko ............... IGGY POP

Benmont Tench .......................... JARRED HARRIS

Big George Drakoulious .............. BILLY BOB THORNTON

Train Fireman .............................. CRISPIN GLOVER

Johnny "The Kid" Pickett ............. EUGENE BYRD

Charlie Dickenson ....................... GABRIEL BYRNE

John Scofield .............................. JOHN HURT

Trading Post Missionary ............. ALFRED MOLINA

John Dickinson ........................... ROBERT MITCHUM

Marvin (Older Marshall) ............. JIMMIE RAY WEEKS

Lee (Younger Marshall) .............. MARK BRINGELSON