DECONSTRUCTING WESTERN ROADS:
Whether one wants to define Dead Man as a Western or as an antithetical parody of the genre as such, the film highly depends on the use of a recognizable set of generic conventions. Jarmusch's realization of these conventions in Dead Man corresponds to a specific type (or even subgenre) of the Western, which is identifiable because of its affinity to the Road Movie. Characteristics shared by both would include a westward journey (whether in the merely physical or the spiritual sense), which is instigated by a more or less voluntary disruption of the protagonist's commonplace and predictable way of life. This breaking loose from socially predefined tracks frequently leads to a life on the road and on the run - fleeing first from the restraints of a community which no longer offers the possibility for a satisfactory life. Whatever hopes a life on the road seems to stir initially, the protagonists of these movies soon find themselves entangled in violence, crime, and in the position of the outlaw that comes with it. Outside of all societal insitutions and thus of "civilization" itself, their place is on the Road, understood less a physical than a symbolic space that often functions as a "privileged site for negotiating differences, social, racial, ethnical, sexual or otherwise". It is characteristic of this crossgenre as an intertextual space that the protagonist meets companions on the road which frequently embody these differences. This exceptional context, shared by enemies and buddies alike, is somehow conditional for the plausibility of the most unusual adventures. In the course of events, these experiences allow for and, at the same time, make necessary the character's (mostly rapid) development towards maturity. That don't do them no good, however, as their journey typically leads to a fatal end, which raises certain questions concerning the opportunities of individuals once they have rejected living according to the value-system(s) they have clashed with. A discussion of Dead Man as an example of both the crossgenre of Western and Road Movie and of the Western parody can address all of the aspects just outlined, and thus offer insights into the often subtle layers of Jim Jarmusch's films.
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