Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

Mar 28, 2010

Thoughts on Dead Man

by Will Ross

What makes William Blake a dead man? The easiest explanation for the titular moniker is that the bullet wound he incurs early in the film is a fatal one, and that he is bound to die from it soon. There are many other possible metaphysical interpretations, but I gravitate towards an unhappy one: That Blake does not die from his numerous wounds or ailments in the film because he is already dead. Not immortal, that implies endless life. He is the long dead poet William Blake, “Born to endless night”, an existence of miseries and slow, dark understandings.

The world of Dead Man is a journey into a hellish nothing. “Machine, that’s the end of the line”, says a madman on the train of the destination. He seems to know far more than we do. The scene ends with the shooting of buffalo. “Government says we killed a million of ‘em last year alone”. No further explanation. No ending. Just an impotent Blake in the midst of slaughter and inexplicable madness, then blackness.

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If we’re to subscribe to thinking of the Blake of Dead Man as actually being the poet William Blake, we must also accept that he is not as brilliant a poet as he once was (having no admitted memory of it), or perhaps has found no use for his brilliance. He substitutes his poetry of words with violence, his new “poetry”, but it does him no good. Blake cannot find a talent or a skill that gives him meaning or happiness. He cannot escape his own futility. He is dead, and if his character makes any progress, it is the same as the film’s title card: Messily assembled bones fragmenting and fading into nothingness.

Nothing comes of anything in Dead Man. Everyone, purposefully or not, destroys each other to no end. The only one who enjoys this is Nobody, a name that plays easily into symbolic punning, in this case hinting at the delight that cruel uncertainty takes in making men suffer in desperate oblivion. That Blake’s acceptance of this uncertainty does nothing to help him is no surprise, but it was no better than any of his other options. He is doomed and always has been.

In the end, Blake is cast out to sea on a boat. We still don’t see him “die”, because he is bound to an eternity of death: In the end, he may have grown more aware himself, or crazier, but either way he is just as paralyzed to assert his will on the events around him as ever, and his only companion is killed. A dead man can’t even enjoy the solitude of Nobody’s company.

The sea he approaches is empty and infinite, and he cannot move to control his passage through it. Neither comrade nor antagonist can affect him, nor can he affect them. He does not move into a white light or beyond the horizon, but slowly through deep, black waters that surround him and lay an endless path in all directions. The water is behind, before, beside, beneath, and even above: When he drifts away from Nobody, we can see that it’s raining, and the few rays of sunlight are far above his strata of being.


Laurel said...

Beautiful writing, Will.....I haven't seen this...but on a bright, sunny day when I believe there is only goodness around me....that's when I will indulge in this movie. It sounds as though the journey through it may be incredibly dark, so therefore I may need that impenetrable lightness to make it through!


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