'The Dead Don't Die' Scores Climate Crisis Points via Zombie Calamity Comedy Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones, Iggy Pop, RZA, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits
Published Jun 10, 2019About three-quarters in to the satiric farce that is Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die, characters played by Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones are trapped in a hardware store surrounded by zombies, and have an inexplicable dialogue about how great Dallas and Travis Good of the Sadies are at playing guitar.
It's something of a meta moment, as Jim Jarmusch is just a tremendous Sadies fan, and the bit, which has nothing to do with anything really (though Dallas's zombified severed head, lying on the floor, sparks the chat), is one of many nods to some cultural element he's tipping his hat to.
The Dead Don't Die is a zombie horror film that pays tribute to the genre and its pioneers, like George Romero. It's also an analysis of contemporary social concerns disguised as an oddly goofy comedy that's genuinely hilarious.
Bill Murray and Adam Driver play Cliff and Ronnie respectively, two small town cops in the unassuming village of Centreville. Their interplay is somehow both folksy and stilted and, as time stops amid reports that polar fracking has put the Earth's rotation out of whack, Cliff begins to think that Ronnie knows a lot more about what's happening than he's letting on.
After checking in on Hermit Bob, an eccentric forest-dweller and mystic played by Tom Waits, the officers go about their duties with some unease, particularly for Cliff, who finds Sturgill Simpson's "The Dead Don't Die" to be a creepy tune anyway, let alone because Ronnie, who frequently dials it up on the car stereo, describes it as "the theme song."
That's the first bit of dust falling from cracks in the fourth wall. In something of a recall to Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, Jarmusch loads his film with current and bygone cross-cultural star power — Tilda Swinton, RZA, Selena Gomez, Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, and Chloë Sevigny are each featured prominently — and knowingly winks at all of us in every thoughtful frame about how a climate change event may well just cause the dead to rise from their graves and eat us all.
The film suggests that our unhealthy addictions and obsessions (e.g., sugar, wifi) and complicit obliviousness to environmental destruction make us all zombies of one sort or another. But it also plays it all off for laughs, slowly pacing itself for maximum suspense and killer punch lines and sight gags (e.g. Driver and Sevigny's characters drive hybrids as the world's ecology ruptures; RZA is a courier for WUPS) that makes The Dead Don't Die a truly satisfying, provocative and funny summer film.