Tuesday, April 26, 2011

JJ, where will your soul rest?

Mystery Train (1989)/Jim Jarmusch
Throughout his first two films, Permanent Vacation and Stranger than Paradise, Jarmusch devotes most of his filmic time to following his characters around as they travel (bum) around (rooftops, terraces, by lanes, seedy theatres in Vacation; New York, Cleveland and then Florida in Paradise.). His films can thus be, in the most literal sense of the word, a relentless pursuit. But the relentlessness in a Jarmusch film is not a yield of an underlying grand conviction in the multi-dimensional human being. He starts with the standpoint of someone who is making a film about bums, losers incapable of a greater discovery – but what is so endearing about a Jarmusch film is how he asserts a belief that it is infact, completely cool to be a bum. One, his cinema believes, is not obliged to radiate a glowing virtue that bathes the audience in his light. His films are people in a constant state of voyage – journeymen who wander for the fulfillment of an unfulfilled higher goal – constantly traversing through different spaces. But at least until the end of his third feature, Down by Law (and even there, grudgingly), the journey never really condenses into any destination. The search, or whatever it is that the characters are searching for, just never seems to be consummated (“We come all the way to Cleveland, but it all looks so same.”) – as such, his films end in a state of transit, in an open space, with characters that seem to be travelling on a route with frayed ends; never-ending and devoid of any destination – a quality of his work manifest most blatantly in the vignette film Night on Earth, in which characters actually occupy a mode of transit (a taxi) as they participate in the conduct of a narrative, or even his Mystery Train, where the film ends with characters inside the eponymous train.

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