By Kyle B. Stiff
“This will end badly.” Like a demoralizing MK ULTRA program on repeat, we hear, “This will end badly, this will end badly,” over and over again, as if we are being prepared for our ultimate role as livestock in the hands of soulless monsters. This is The Dead Don’t Die, a low-energy, testosterone-deficient story that could have only come from the modern virtue-signaling mecca that is Hollywood. There’s going to be lots of spoilers, but I wouldn’t worry about that. In fact, I’ll go ahead and give away the ending so we can get that out of the way: The police officers who represent the protectors of civilization sit on their asses and do nothing, then they let themselves get surrounded and killed, thus ending their existential dread.
My friends and I speculated on whether the story was supposed to be a demoralizing psy-op (“This will end badly!”) normalizing the idea of the world falling apart, or whether Jarmusch was playing the “long game” by showing the viewer how absolutely castrated and soulless you would have to be to choose inaction while zombies eat your civilization. I tend to think Jarmusch was bitten and the great mind virus of our time took root in his mind; if he lives in Hollywood, how could he be anything but a casualty?
The wild man of the forest is a great example of the soy-induced philosophy that runs through the story. The wild man knows how to use guns and hunt, and he has the sort of independent and combative nature that can keep a person alive in tough situations. If this movie had been made a few years ago, the job of his archetype would be to find the pussified urbanites and remind them what it’s like to fight to survive. While the bugmen were screaming at their phones, he would have knocked the phones out of their hands and told them to get weapons and ammo and secure their turf.
The wild man did not do that. In fact he spent most of his time angry at someone wearing a red “Keep America White Again” hat (get it guys??? get it???????). We find out in the end that not only did the wild man steal a chicken from the scowling MAGAman (a farmer who feeds people), but when MAGAman gets eaten, the wild man says, “Payback time!” Which is really odd when you think about it. What is he getting payback for? And are we supposed to believe that some libtard has spent his life living in the wilderness, shaking his head and pissed off because the #Resistance hasn’t destroyed the Patriarchy yet, or made vaccines mandatory and abortions free, and is ashamed that he lives in a nation with borders? “God dammit I can’t enjoy the untarnished beauty of nature when I think about all the Mexicans forced to live in Mexico! I need them over here… NOW!!!” All liberal ideas are inherently urban and come from The Machine rather than The Land. So did this guy have a smartphone in his handmade tent in the woods so CNN could keep him up to date on who he’s supposed to hate? As ridiculous as it sounds, I think this goes beyond comedy and reveals the sort of lack of self-awareness that is becoming increasingly common in Hollywood, that is, it shows that they think the stuff they believe in is some kind of “common sense” that people all over the world believe in, at least to some degree.
I need to mention the alien lady. She’s interesting because she’s the only character who has any kind of agency or potency; she kills zombies with lethal precision. Her part in the story is odd. She gets the main characters off their asses, at least for a few minutes, then “phones home”, then hops in a UFO and flies away. I don’t like to be the kind of person who sees something odd in a story and says, “omg that’s so random!” because I don’t think a project that passes through that many hands really has too many “random” elements. The alien lady meant something to someone working on this project. One idea I’ve had is that the alien lady’s flight represents God abandoning the human species. She could have easily killed all the zombies, and maybe even had a good time doing it, but she chose not to.
Another thing she might represent, and this is going to sound pretty whackadoo, but she might represent actual aliens. Some people have theorized that our progenitors, the creatures who actually made us, are still here, enjoying themselves and sometimes fighting proxy wars through us, their creations. This might sound crazy, but when you think about it, it’s also pretty weird that you’re a collection of cells all cooperating with each other just so you can play video games, walk in place on a treadmill, and make poop that you squeeze into a chair full of water. When you really give it a big think, the fact that you can do all that is like ten thousand times stranger than the idea that aliens live in upscale neighborhoods and protect their privacy with advanced mind control camouflage techniques. But anyway, long story short, I couldn’t help but wonder if the alien lady’s departure actually represents a coming apocalyptic era when the benevolent creatures who made us finally say, “Fuck it, we’re leaving, you can live in a reptilian slave pit if that’s what you really want!”
(Edit: I just realized what she represents. The alien lady represents the “elites” who think they’re going to isolate themselves and let the rest of us die when their apocalyptic prophecy about global warming occurs in accordance with their enviro-religion. While everyone else in the story sat around doing nothing (peasants), she took action (nobility). She was played as an alien because some of the “elites” who rule the world consider themselves to be descended from aliens. It’s a part of their own special belief system. I’m not going to comment on whether or not it’s true, that’s just their belief. But I’m leaving my earlier weak theorizing unedited because sometimes I like to go back and look at the process.)
Looking back on it, I’m wondering if Jarmusch made this one for the critics. I remember seeing one of the newer Romero movies a few years ago… I think it was Diary of the Dead. In the ending, a bunch of rednecks hang some zombies and then have a party while shooting rounds into them. I remember reading a castrated reviewer moaning about the final shot being a nightmarish vision of humanity. I was so confused… didn’t the good guys win, and their prize was that they got to use the bad guys for target practice? That’s a good thing, right? Ah, but I was looking at it from the perspective that humans are good! If you hate your species and view them through the lens of resentment, then the idea that they would delight in crushing their enemies would of course be a bad thing!
So, without looking into it, I’m guessing there might be some critics who enjoyed The Dead Don’t Die. It has a lot of star power, and I know they like that. They also might think it’s amusing that people will do nothing but sit and wait to be eaten by slow-moving zombies. Maybe this is my own personal zombie apocalypse: To wake up to a world so devoid of the will to live that bugmen will double over with laughter at a “Keep America White Again” hat but their heart rate won’t go up when they are given a glimpse of their people in the hands of the reanimated dead.
I’m not a testosterone-fueled alpha male who likes doing donuts in yards just to let everyone know who’s running the show. I like quiet evenings at home. I have a collection of fancy tea (I’m not kidding) and I spend an inordinate amount of time brushing my cat and making sure that he’s comfortable (sadly, still not joking). But the idea that zombies or any kind of violent abomination might invade human territory and slow down civilization, much less eat people, makes me want to go on a rampage. And not necessarily out of anger, either, but maybe even as a joyful act. I don’t know if that’s a normal human impulse or if some people are just wired to be a part of the “immune system”.
But that’s why I think The Dead Don’t Die wasn’t actually a comedy. It was the most intense horror flick of our time. It shows us what we have to look forward to if our spirit remains asleep!