Tag Archives: Jim Jarmusch

Review: The Limits of Control

It is from time to time the case that a deliberately pretentious film snob such as myself may emphatically defend a film for its ambitions, for its aspirations to discuss cinema, or even for its accidents and failures, and casually wash away its alienating disagreeability in doing so. I am not, frankly, sure that Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control applies here, although I am about to emphatically defend it for all of the above. I am not quite sure it says anything about cinema, however, so much as it says something about Jim Jarmusch, and about nothingness. Watching it is an experience in willful alienation, an auteur constructing a film for his own interest more than anyone else’s. It is a peculiar, obtuse curiosity. It is also an important one, although not necessarily for its ambitions.

Largely because, depending upon your view of the film, it may be either the very definition of “ambition” or its very antithesis, which is the central dialectic around which The Limits of Control circles. Jarmusch is just about the most willfully difficult English-language filmmaker working today, and The Limits of Control may be his most distant film. It boasts none of the playful cryptic diabolicalism of something like his masterpiece Dead Man, a disassembly of the Western genre and all fiction at a core structural level. The Western as social theater, it was, and his aesthetically sensuous films have followed suit until then. Decconstructive aesthetic, sure, but aesthetic nonetheless. Continue reading

Wild Wild Jest: Dead Man

This being a review in a month-long exploration of the Western genre.

Update late 2018: After a re-watch, I’m not entirely satisfied with my original, college-age review. (Would that I ever was?). In particular, I find my more nihilistic reading of Dead Man to be hopelessly mired in my youth. In its interplay of shaken signifiers and layered meanings, Jarmusch’s film is never nihilistic. If it reduces the Western to a pageant, it also animates new possibilities for pageantry, retexturing the Western as a kind of poetry as Emersonian as it is Derridean, as open to reconnecting with space and nature as it is exposing its inabilities to do so. The film thrives on an immanent tension, and would that more films followed suit.

After all, if this film re-reads all films as lies, is not Dead Man part of that great filmic canard as well? Dead Man is not “truth”, nor does it want to be. It’s a self-reflexive, filmic op-ed piece, overstated for pure effect. In its untethering from reality, it associatively overlays, blurs, and emulsifies various images and sounds together in new, unexpected ways, shattering pre-established truths and restitching them with an eye not for their cohesion but their imaginative associations, for the spaces in between them, for the breakages and fractures which expose the stitching of reality and the potential for reorganizing sound, space, and mind to new ends. A lyrical expression of the Western as out-of-body experience, it not only critiques the genre; it breaks it, and resurrects it as something anew. What it ultimately imagines is not anti-Western, really, but a new, hopefully prognostic breed of cinema, one not only interested in excoriating the Western myth but also in conjuring a new, more mutable one, a vision of the Western as self-critical, poetic play. I’ll keep the original review up for posterity’s sake, but read at your own risk!

Original Review (Edited mid-2015):

Dead Man is a revisionist Western, sure, but there have been many great revisionist Westerns (look to Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven from three years before-hand for ample evidence). There certainly have not, however, been many movies like Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s attempt at creating not a gritty non-myth but an anti-myth –  and it’s a marvel of marrying acidic form to acerbic content. This is not only a revisionist Western, but an anti-revisionist Western, an anti-Western, even an anti-film. Continue reading