Taken in unison, Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law and Mystery Train could all be seen to offer recognition of contemporary disillusion. Whilst this could lead to the criticism of Jarmusch’s work as “one-note”, in my view there is evidence of a progression of ideas throughout Jarmusch’s trilogy suggestive of the director’s journey from doubt to hope during the 1980s. In the first two films of his trilogy, he seems to question the feasibility of realising any kind of American Dream in the midst of a society torn between Reaganite optimism and the realities of disillusion and unemployment. Stranger Than Paradise seems to offer an exploration of the disillusion of the individual struggling to come to terms with his/her identity in a postmodern world. Down By Law in my view further explores this theme as the individual struggles to find unity among the obvious disparity of opinions characteristic of American society in the 1980s. Ultimately, both films could be seen to end on notes of uncertainty. In Stranger Than Paradise, the ending of the film sees Willie on a plane bound for Budapest as Eddie and Eva are left behind separated from one another in the “paradise” of Florida. Similarly, in Down By Law, the failure of the two main characters of Jack and Zack to relate to each other in terms of anything other than conflict leads them to walk alone down separate paths at the end of the film towards the uncertainties of their respective futures.
In Down By Law, the character of Roberto is significant in that he seems to recognise the possibility of using basic communication to unite or bond with others. Although he ultimately fails to capitalise on this possibility, Jarmusch in my view seems to further explore this same prospect in Mystery Train. The world inhabited by the characters in the final film in Jarmusch’s trilogy is, like those of its predecessors, a world of contingency. However, the characters in Mystery Train are ultimately more open to communication than the characters in Stranger Than Paradise or Down By Law. As a result, the general impression in my view is of Jarmusch perhaps recognising the possibility of abiding successfully in doubt and ambiguity – a possibility most likely to be achieved through use of basic communication. The film seems to be a celebration of “postmodern” diversity as the notion of individual enterprise gives way to a new sense of eclecticism. In a “throwaway culture that’s made of this mixture of different cultures” (Rolling Stone, 1986), Jarmusch seems to highlight the possibility of the existence of a something universal - human compassion.
Inevitably, Jarmusch’s vehement punk attitude – his independence from mainstream cinema - means that as a director he is perhaps often considered “offbeat” or marginal. Whilst this attitude may be understandable in terms of the relatively small number of people who actually get to see Jarmusch’s work when compared to films produced in Hollywood, I would hope that this dissertation has succeeded in highlighting his status as a director worthy of further critical consideration.
Rolling Stone, “Too Cool For Words” (Jim Jarmusch interviewed by Tim Holmes), November 6, 1986.
Bibliography & Filmography
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