It’s become the Mother of All Clichés: “We’ve all seen this movie before.” Ever since the news became an adjunct to the entertainment industry, it has spun out realities shaped like movie plots. And the newsmakers, the shapers of our reality, have given up any pretense that they think in other terms. Yeah, we’ve all seen this “movie” before—whether it’s The Day After Tomorrow or Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Handmaid’s Tale—and yet we can’t turn it off. It just keeps repeating, to our enervated dismay.
Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die is a zombie movie in 2019, which is to say, it is itself an undead specimen. That one young-ish character equates Jay Gatsby with Robert Redford rather than Leonardo DiCaprio is indication enough that the director precipitates this time warp only half-consciously. “This isn’t gonna end well” is Police Deputy Adam Driver’s mantra. It turns out that this isn’t a premonition—he cops to having read the script. If only it had reminded him that the fourth wall was already broken long ago, by such obscurities as Mel Brooks. Even if the dead don’t die, jokes can.
Truth be told, I’ve always had some affection for Jarmusch’s work, for his almost ascetic dedication to never going the extra mile. In a sense, he has been making zombie movies for his whole career. Driver notices a special plot for children in a cemetery and asks his superior, Bill Murray, why it’s there. “Some 19th-century thing,” he shrugs. That caliber of repartee—that commitment, on the writer-director’s part, to not consulting Siri for the correct answer—takes about as much effort as spelling “D.G.A.F.”