Although Jim Jarmusch is one of the most important and critically acclaimed American filmmakers of the past decades, his work has largely been ignored by scholars. Consequently, my analysis of Stranger than Paradise (1984), Dead Man (1995), and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) stands out as one of very few comparative studies of his films. Furthermore, the research that does exist fails to recognize Jarmusch’s consistent occupation with American sociopolitical concerns. Accordingly, my thesis, in its focus on Jarmusch’s relation to American myths, seeks to illuminate aspects of the filmmaker’s work that has gone largely unnoticed.
To a great extent, Jarmusch’s vision parallels cultural, academic, and political trends of its day, as well as these movements’ roots in the counterculture and social and political changes of the 1950s and 1960s. Nonetheless, his vision, or, rather, revision, of American myths is better characterized by what it opposes, than by what it supports. Quickly rendered, Stranger than Paradise rebels against the American Dream of the film’s sociopolitical context of Reaganism, Dead Man rejects the views of American past and identity embodied in the Western myth, and Ghost Dog opposes simplistic characterizations of American ethnicity as expressed by the Melting Pot and Salad Bowl theories.
The strategies and approaches Jarmusch employs in conveying his views are largely postmodern. Through various strategies of interruption, emphasis on intertextualism, and rejection of the Grand Narrative, his films seek to expose myth, not necessarily as false, but as deceptive. Contrasting myth’s disguise as the Big Truth, Jarmusch’s work is full of (contradictory) stories, representing the complex multiplicity that constitutes contemporary American society.