Liked the movie. Loved the song. While the buried secrets of The Dead Don't Die, director Jim Jarmusch's all-star deep dive into the zombie genre, are intended to be fully left to the audience's own interpretation, I found this slim but satisfying film's overarching theme captured in its rueful title song, written and performed by Grammy-winning singer Sturgill Simpson, whose evocative lyrics echo the story at large and the American experience, in particular. Indeed, it's a song about apathy, indifference and impermanence in a rapidly changing world, where we grapple with dwindling freedoms and free will, almost as if, pardon the metaphor, each of us were zombies lurching for comforts from our past:
"Oh, the dead don't die
Any more than you or I.
They're just ghosts inside a dream
Of a life that we don't own.
They walk around us all the time
Never paying any mind
To the silly lives we lead
Or the reaping we've all sown.
There's a cup of coffee waiting on every corner.
Someday we're gonna wake up and find the corner's gone."
This latest take on the zombie apocalypse, imbued with Jarmusch's trademark deadpan timbre that has made him an iconic voice in independent filmmaking (Only Lovers Left Alive, Ghost Dog, Stranger Than Paradise). In fact, The Dead Don't Die is a bit of a family affair for Jarmusch, reuniting with familiar faces from productions past, including Bill Murray (this is his fourth Jarmusch film), Adam Driver (Patterson), Chloe Sevigny (Broken Flowers), Steve Buscemi (Mystery Train), RZA (Ghost Dog), Iggy Pop (Gimme Danger) and Tilda Swinton (this also is her fourth Jarmusch collaboration). Plus, there are some notable newcomers to Jarmusch's summer fling: Selena Gomez and Danny Glover.
The Dead Don't Die is set in the hamlet of Centerville, the proverbial three-cop town, somewhere in generic America. But the changing outside world visits Centerville in increasingly surreal ways over the course of several days: a human-caused cosmic event—described as the ridiculous-sounding but not entirely implausible "polar fracking"—has forced the earth's poles from their axis, disrupting the earth's rotation. The moon hangs large and low in the sky, the hours of daylight become unpredictable and animals exhibit unusual behaviors. But no one foresees the most dangerous repercussion: the dead rising from the Centerville cemetery.
To be sure, the living dead has become a ubiquitous mainstay in pop culture—no less than 55 zombie-related movies or TV shows were released in 2014 alone. And it's abundantly clear that director George Romero's iconic Night of the Living Dead has inspired much of Jarmusch's newest effort. Keep a close eye on The Dead Don't Die and you'll notice more than a few passing nods to Romero's 1968 black-and-white classic. For one, there's a 1968 Pontiac Le Mans driven by Gomez in The Dead Don't Die, the exact same vehicle in Night of the Living Dead, right down to its customized paintjob. In the late 1960s, Night of the Living Dead was a social allegory for the era of Vietnam and Civil Rights conflicts. And while The Dead Don't Die is a 21st-century zombie comedy, there's also plenty of socio-political subtext.
Is The Dead Don't Die the finest film of the summer? Not by a long shot. Is it worth the price of full admission? Well, quite possibly, that is if you answer "yes" to at least two of three questions. No. 1: Do you like the zombie-apocalypse genre? No. 2. Are you a fan of Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and/or Adam Driver? No. 3: Do you appreciate Jim Jarmusch, undoubtedly one of the best art house filmmakers of his generation? I answered "yes" to Nos. 2 and 3. But what really sealed the deal for me was Sturgill's title song, a classic-country mid-century style tune that feels as if it was unearthed from the 1960s, not unlike the dead:
"Hearts break when loved ones journey on
At the thought that they're now forever gone.
So, we tell ourselves they're all still around us all the time,
Gone but not forgotten,
Just memories left behind."