Cannes 2019: Jim Jarmusch, Bill Murray, Selena Gomez on The Dead Don't Die and what terrifies them

Prahlad Srihari

May 16, 2019 12:35:58 IST

We all know zombie movies have never been just about zombies. Ever since George Romero smuggled sociopolitical subtext into Night of the Living Dead, the horror sub-genre has never been the same. From Danny Boyle to Robert Kirkman, filmmakers and writers have continued to use zombies to prod audiences into thinking about timely issues — when all they wanted was to indulge in post-apocalyptic survivalist fantasies aided by a few jump scares. Indie maverick Jim Jarmusch has now joined the Z-bandwagon with his latest film, The Dead Don't Die, which premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival on 14 May.

Cannes 2019: Jim Jarmusch, Bill Murray, Selena Gomez on The Dead Dont Die and what terrifies them

(From L-R) Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez, Chloe Sevigny and Bill Murray pose for photographers at the photo call for The Dead Don't Die at the 72nd Festival de Cannes. Image via Twitter

They took over Locarno in 2016 (The Girl with All the Gifts), Toronto in 2017 (Ravenous), Udine in 2018 (One Cut of the Dead) and after taking over Sundance earlier this year (Little Monsters), the infection has officially spread all the way to the Croisette. It's no secret zombie movies have become a regular feature in prominent film festivals in recent years.

In the tradition of Romero's zombie films, The Dead Don't Die too is a futurist allegory, an end-of-the world tale with Jarmusch's deadpan hipster spin. The film pays tribute to the father of the dead with plenty of nods to his 1968 cult classic.

“Romero is our guide. I very much look up to him and put a lot of references in our film to his films...Romero's extremely important because he really changed the idea of zombies and monsters. Monsters in Godzilla and Frankenstein come from outside the social structure. With Romero, zombies come from within the collapsing social structure,” Jarmusch said at a press conference for the film on Wednesday.

Zombie movies are essentially a reaction to the cultural anxieties of the time. The horde's monstrosity in Romero's trilogy symoblised racism (Night of the Living Dead), consumerism (Dawn of the Dead) and Cold War militarism (Day of the Dead). In The Dead Don't Die, Jarmusch takes aim at the climate change deniers of Trump's America. The zombie uprising in the film is triggered by a corporate sanctioned polar fracking crisis which causes the Earth to shift off its axis. "Watching nature decline at unprecedented rates in history is terrifying and concerning," he said. “And what concerns me is the apathy and failure to address something that threatens all living species."

Jim Jarmusch at 2019 Cannes. Festival de Cannes/Getty

Jim Jarmusch at 2019 Cannes. Festival de Cannes/Getty

Steve Buscemi's character is the owner of a dog named Rumsfeld and sports a “Keep America White Again” cap. Yet, Jarmusch doesn't believe his film is political because environmental issues transcend corporate and global politics. “Politics is not of interest to me," he insists. "Defining it as such is very confusing. Politics do not save anything and it is a kind of distraction. If everyone decided to boycott a certain corporation, you can take them down. We have the possibility to do theses things, but time is running out.” He adds he was merely trying to "balance humour and darkness."

Bill Murray chimes in here, waxing poetic: “Jarmusch lives in black and white. It’s about shadows for him. It was a lot of day for night. He comes at you in the daytime but dressed as darkness.”

Jarmusch also uses the elastic zombie metaphor to address our culture of "commodity fetishism." We see the undead moan and yearn for creature comforts — Iggy Pop’s zombie craves coffee; an alcoholic thirsts for Chardonnay; zombie teens aimlessly shuffle in search of Xanax and a Wi-Fi connection.

Selena Gomez, who plays the teenaged Zoe in the film, too joined the conversation to bemoan a culture obsessed with their phones and social media. "I think that our world is going through a lot obviously. What Jim (Jarmusch) gestured to in the film is that social media has really been terrible for my generation. I understand that it's amazing to use your platform but it does scare me when you see how exposed these young girls and young boys are," she said. She went on to paint a bleak picture of the future we're at a point, saying: "I think it's pretty impossible to make it safe at this point. There's no blocking anything, they're exposed to it immediately."

Actress Selena Gomez poses for photographers upon arrival at the photo call for the film 'The Dead Don't Die' at the 72nd international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

Selena Gomez at the photo call for The Dead Don't Die at 2019 Cannes. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

But Jarmusch asserts his optimism lies only with the young people (like Gomez) all over the world tirelessly ramping up their efforts and demanding urgent action to address the ongoing climate change crisis.

The film's cast, including Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Gomez and Murray, then opened up on what else terrified them. Sevigny recalled an incident from her childhood where a priest said that by watching The Exorcist, she was “inviting the devil into her soul". Swinton says she didn't grow up watching a lot of horror films but after having "dabbled" with the genre recently, it "thrills her to the core." Gomez confessed to being a massive fan of zombie dramas. "I like everything from Zombieland to 28 Days Later to The Walking Dead and Black Summer," she said.

When it was Murray's turn, he cheekily answered, “I find Cannes terrifying.”

The Dead Don't Die had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It is one of 21 titles competing for the prestigious Palme d'Or. Click here to follow our coverage of the festival straight from the Croisette.

Updated Date: May 16, 2019 12:58:11 IST

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