Qt3 Movie Podcast: The Dead Don't Die

Title Qt3 Movie Podcast: The Dead Don't Die
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Movie podcasts
When June 18, 2019

Jim Jarmusch has already done vampires, so what's left? Besides werewolves, of course. Zombies..

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I had mixed feelings about the movie, but I do not think Jarmusch was trying to do a zombie movie the way Tom seems to expect. I think zombies were a just a convenient metaphor. I think it’s a pretty shaggy, undirected movie overall, but insofar as it did seem to have a point, to me it read as being about real world existential threats like climate change and our nearly complete lack of reaction to them.

Darn it, I was hoping next week’s podcast would be about the bonkers and glacial Too Old To Die Young.

A sequel to the John Stamos/Gene Simmons classic, Never Too Young To Die?

I think this is exactly right. Jarmusch didn’t care about westerns when he made Dead Man, he didn’t care about vampires when he made Only Lovers Left Alive, and he doesn’t care about zombies here. I expected that going in, so it was easy for me to get on the movie’s wavelength. It’s a vehicle for him to express his anxieties about the world as it is now and his observations about the way people are dealing with (or choosing not to deal with) huge social, political, and environmental issues. It’s super on the nose because a lot of people are dumb, and a fair portion of the ones that aren’t dumb probably still aren’t taking things as seriously as they should and need a bonk on the head.

Tom railing against the Game Boy reference doesn’t really jibe with me. A mad old hermit who’s been living out in the woods, presumably for many years, isn’t going to bring up the Xbox One X in his tone poem. I’m not convinced that Tom Waits is even supposed to be a voice worth listening to or represent what the movie is trying to say. In my take on the film, where each character represents an attitude toward global affairs, Waits is the sort of person who observes and understands what’s going on but doesn’t get involved. I imagine that that’s the sort of person that Jarmusch hates most of all.

Except for “Keep America White Again” people, of course.

To paraphrase Jarmusch in an interview Tom read to me after stuff: “Sumthin sumthin zombies ARE social structure.”

I’ve always assumed that Jarmusch is pretentious as all hell based solely on his hairdo, and have avoided all exposure to the man himself so I can avoid dragging that crap into his movies. I did, however, stumble upon a 45 minute slow motion video of his head at the Milwaukee Art Museum this weekend. It was, uh… I dunno. It exists.

So glad you wrote in and that you’re posting here, Luke! And that you’re weighing in, malk. This word…

…is pretty much a perfect description.

That makes sense. It certainly fits in with the lack of tension or even concern expressed by most of the characters. The Earth’s environment is ruined and no one cares, so the dead rising from their graves isn’t going to move the needle much. Everyone still just stands around, lackadaisical as ever.

Which is a solid idea. Zombies are great for expressions about power (Kingdom), celebrity (Dead Set), mistrust (Dead Outside), globalism (World War Z), media (Pontypool), infectious disease (28 Days Later), hopeless nation-building (28 Weeks Later), death (90% of zombie movies), and so on. Most of those movies don’t suck! And most of them have an awareness of the genre they’re using to express their ideas, they understand the basic concepts, they’re familiar with the mythology, they sometimes even have unique insights.

But not Jarmusch. When we were hanging out after recording the podcast, I found an interview in which he admitted he didn’t know much about zombies and hasn’t seen many zombie movies and couldn’t tell you the first thing about Walking Dead. As kellywand referenced, Jarmusch even expounded on the significance of zombies and what they mean and how they’re different from other monster myths. His answer was that monsters like Godzilla, Frankenstein, and vampires come from outside the social structure, but zombies are unique because they come from inside the social structure.

Huh??? Dude, not even close.

Jarmusch’s lack of insight into zombies shows in The Dead Don’t Die, so I have no idea why he would make a zombie movie. I get what he wanted to do, but I don’t get why he wanted to do it with zombies.

That’s a great point, and it’s not really a hill I want to die on, or even stand on for very long. You can have it. Here, I left you a lawn chair. But if the role of Tom Waits is as a chorus, like Dingus says, and if he’s a ghost floating around the woods observing the people of Centerville, his pop culture references should at least from the last decade. Really, it’s just an example of how Jarmusch is out of touch with the things he’s talking about. His sadly dated perspective on comic book culture and the Lord of the Rings are a much better examples of what I mean.

Ah, that could be. But then why does he escape any sort of bad ending? Also, I think it’s a bit of a casting spoiler to know that Jarmusch is obviously fond of Tom Waits professionally. I would be surprised if he intended that role to be something he was being critical towards. As I mentioned, I think the whole purpose of the movie is to set up that final scene with Tom Waits narrating the Downfall of the Last Honest Men in the World. An idea I support, even if the execution didn’t work for me.

It sure makes for a fine poster! In fact, there’s more energy and tension in that picture of a hand thrust up out of a grave than the entire movie manages. Way to go, marketing dudes!

That’s my policy as well. It works wonders with Coen brothers and Darren Aronofsky movies, too.

By the way, I meant to call out that I loved the moment when RZA tells Caleb Landry Jones that “the world is perfect, appreciate the details”. I’m not sure what it was doing in that movie, but it would have been memorable and poignant in a movie I didn’t hate.


That’s fair. Like I said, I knew from the jump that there was no way Jarmusch gave even half a damn about the genre, so from my perspective there was actually more of a focus on zombies than I expected. It’s like last week with Godzilla. You didn’t expect much, so you were pleased with what you got.

I see the film as deeply fatalistic and accusatory. In Jarmusch’s vision, the world is doomed, we’re all to blame in various ways, and even if you do your best it’s going to end badly. Looking at it through that lens, Waits doesn’t really get off easy. Sure, everybody else dies, but would being the Hobo King of Zombie World be that sweet of a gig? Perhaps to someone so misanthropic it might be. And you could be right. It might all be a road leading to a monologue at the end that’s really just the voice of Jarmusch jabbering through Waits’ mouth. The movie is certainly meta enough to warrant that interpretation.

I really didn’t understand the meta stuff. It was funny the first time, kind of cute when Murray asked if they were improvising, and pretty confusing when it finally got around to referencing the script. I was really hoping you would all love this movie so somebody could explain what the hell that was all about.

It’s a movie where I was frequently laughing (I thought the scene where they’re checking the bodies in the diner was hysterical) but I still don’t understand why a bunch of things were in it, the meta stuff being a big one. Also, like, Selena Gomez & co, who don’t actually do anything before their offscreen demise. or the kids in juvie, who I guess might just be there to watch the news? Or Tilda Swinton, for that matter. (Who yes, I am pretty sure is supposed to be an alien from the start, hence the data gathering, the failure to understand appropriate funeral cosmetics, the ability to operate computers with her mind, etc). I’m a little surprised no one remarked on her character’s name (Winston) being an anagram of hers.

I don’t think Caleb Landry-Jones’ character is meant to be a comic nerd, for what it’s worth. I don’t think he even has any comics in his shop. He’s very specifically a horror nerd, which is an archetype I think still exists and is not substantially more mainstream than it was. Although, frankly, for all that Marvel movies and Game of Thrones and such have moved aspects of nerd culture into pop culture, I dispute the idea that it’s no longer possible to be a nerd about those things. Just because lots of people have a vague familiarity with the characters from the movies now doesn’t mean that most of those people have read a single comic, much less could trace a given plot arc to the issue number, title and writer of the comics it was drawn from, or tell you about obscure one-off characters or similar. You just gotta be way more into that stuff than the norm.

I had a breakdown of what I thought most of the characters purposes were in the movie in my email, so I’ll just quote it here. It was a bit hastily written, but I’m happy with the basic idea.

Beyond the on the nose “the world is going to hell and we’re to blame” message of the film, there’s a more interesting question underlying it all. “What are you going to do about it all?”

Will you just watch it all go down impassively like Tom Waits’ Hermit Bob?

Will you embrace the destructive force and be consumed by it like Steve Buscemi’s farmer Frank?

Will you fight and risk losing a part of yourself in the process like Adam Driver’s Officer Ronnie?

Will you give up and give in to despair like Chloe Sevigny’s Officer Mindy?

Will you do the best you can to carry on in good faith, blind to the real state of affairs like Bill Murray’s Chief Robertson?

Will you try to live your life as you always have, with only a passing interest in the chaos surrounding you like Selena Gomez and her cohorts?

Will you, as part of the newest generation, be left behind and forgotten by the system (and the movie) like the kids in juvie?

Maybe you’re Tilda Swinton. A smart, capable foreigner doing what you can to help those who won’t help themselves, but ultimately the best thing for you is to get the hell out.

Or are you a zombie? Just wandering in a daze looking for the nearest wifi hotspot or pot of coffee.

I really loved that breakdown, Luke. I’m sorry I was unable to feather it in to the discussion. But I cannot thank you enough for sending it in.

I’m so happy you’re a writer-inner.


“The whole script?”

They’re both comedies, so sure, why not?

His character made me feel like it was a period piece (in which it’d kinda work), but that idea was at contretemps with Buscemi’s hat and frackin’ refs. (As we call 'em in the industry. Or 'stree, as we call it.)

Is Danny Glover actually pronounced that way or was Kelly just being weird?

Both things can be true.

Danny Glover’s name is pronounced as if it were ‘glove’ with an ‘r’ at the end. Like it was somebody’s job to put gloves on people. Or ‘lover’ with a ‘g’ at the beginning.


That’s what I thought. Whew.

Does the hair policy apply to Lynch, too?

I doubt I’d even have hairstyle-based preconceived notions if it weren’t for David Lynch.