The knowingly madcap zombie horror film is out this week
Literally nothing is as it seems in Jim Jarmusch’s latest release, The Dead Don’t Die, a deadpan comedic take on classic zombie tropes which follows an outbreak of the undead in the small town of Centerville, USA. It’s by far the American auteur’s most cynical film to date, essentially dead-set on lampooning modern day conformism and consumerism by way of never-ending meta hi-jinks.
And while we picked up on most of the messages Jarmusch was trying to get across, we were still left with some real doozies of unanswered questions when the titles rolled…
What’s with Jarmusch’s fascination with Sturgill Simpson?
The film’s theme song, written by Simpson, plays diegetically various times throughout, with various characters smashing through the fourth wall by reminding us that, yes, it is the theme song and/or expressing their love for it – until Bill Murray can’t take it anymore and chucks the CD out of a window. But it doesn’t end there, as Simpson himself turns up towards the end as a zombie, dragging a guitar behind him.
So why the fascination? Jarmusch is obviously a big fan of the singer/songwriter as the first five words he put on paper for this script was: “Song by Sturgill Simpson plays.” His producers suggested he put “song TBD”, just in case Simpson said no — but that was never going to happen, was it?
Does Iggy Pop really love coffee?
In The Dead Don’t Die, Jarmusch goes out of his way to make a statement through zombies by having them wander around looking for whatever material product they once loved most. The thing is, when we see Iggy Pop hankering for coffee in the town’s diner, his face does anything but suggest his cravings have been met when he finally secures that pot of Joe. Having said that, Pop allegedly made himself pretty sick after chomping down on a bit too many fake intestines, so that might explain a lot of it.
Why was Bill Murray kept out in the cold and only allowed to read his lines in the script?
Not only do the cast break the fourth wall and admit they’re in a film, they poke plenty of fun at their public personas. Throughout the film, Adam Driver’s character constantly repeats: “This is going to end badly.” Once we reach the end of the film, he says it one last time before Murray asks him, “Why do you keep saying that? How do you know?” To which Driver responds, “It’s because I read the script.” “The whole script?” asks Murray quizzically. “Yeah, Jim sent it to me,” says Driver. This is where Murray hits the car roof: “I only got the scenes I was in. I’ve done so much for him. Some of it you don’t even know about.”
This idea of Jarmusch giving preference to Driver over Murray works really well and is taken to the next level in a fun sequence in which Adam Driver’s character leans out the cop car window with a machete to cut off the head of one very familiar-looking zombie: a zombie dressed in the same attire as Bill Murray’s character in Zombieland.
Who is Iggy Pop’s zombie pal?
Zombie Iggy is seen wandering around Centerville croaking for coffee with a girlfriend that many may not recognise. That would be Sara Driver, Jarmusch’s long-time partner. Driver is also a filmmaker and actress, and she recently returned to the director’s chair after a 24-year hiatus to direct last year’s documentary Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a candid account of the New York artist as told by the people who used to party with him — Driver included.
Why is Selena Gomez visiting town?
Selena Gomez, Luca Sabbat and Austin Butler are brought into the mix during the film playing “Cleveland hipsters” in search of a fun night on the town. It’s all very bizarre, though, as their involvement in the narrative plays little to no importance: it feels as if they were just brought in to provide a bit of fresh zombie fodder. The only sense we could really make from their inclusion was when they are mistakenly believed to have come from Pittsburgh, the city where Romero studied and cut his teeth as a movie director.
Why has Tom Waits’ Hermit Bob become a hermit?
Metatextually speaking, the most pivotal role in The Dead Don’t Die is Hermit Bob. Having gone off the grid to live in the woods, he spies from afar through binoculars all the while philosophically condemning the locals for having “sold their souls for a Game Boy”. There’s no real explanation given as to why he’s become a hermit, but it wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that Bob is a perfect metaphor for Waits in real life: an unconventional, artistically reclusive hermit who offers his critical commentaries and insight through his songs and films.
How and why did Zelda Winston (AKA Tilda Swinton) end up in this land that time forgot?
The answer to this question is anyone’s guess, but she steals each and every one of her scenes with such a delightful performance that it really doesn’t matter. Tilda Swinton plays Zelda Winston, the new sword-wielding mortician in town who has a peculiar penchant for samurai swords and takes to calmly slicing off zombie heads when things turn Romero-shaped.
After doing a bit of digging, NME discovered that it was actually Swinton who gave Jarmusch the idea of writing a zombie movie while they were working together on Only Lovers Left Alive. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jarmusch said: “I’d told Tilda about the sort of vague idea that I had for this a few years ago, and asked her: ‘Is there any type of character you’d want to play in this weird little town?’ And she immediately said, ‘Oh, I’d love to be an undertaker!'”
The samurai sword was all Jarmusch’s doing, though. “That came from my love of martial arts, and martial-arts movies,” he explained. “And from when I quit smoking a few years back. When I was trying to quit smoking, I was filled with all this rage — I’d smoked for 35 years at that point, I knew it was going to be rough quitting! So what I did was, I holed up in my loft alone for 10 days and I watched Sword of Doom two to three times a day.”
What on earth happened to the teens from the detention centre?
Despite the entire film suggesting that civilisation is being consumed by, er, consumerism, Jarmusch still sees a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel and clearly believes that teenagers are the future. In the same interview, he said: “I have a lot of hope for the world because of youth movements today, like the teenagers out of Parkland, or the Sunrise Movement, or even the Extinction Rebellion folks in the U.K. It’s just the kids who didn’t ‘fit’ into this fucked-up society. They’re the only ones left for me.”
Sadly, he has a funny way of showing it in the film, as they just seem to vanish into thin air and we are given no clues as to what fate befalls them. One of them says “I know a safe place we can hide” and, well, that’s that.
The Dead Don’t Die is released in the UK from July 12.