There should be a periodical published on when critics are wrong. Dead Man is a film that was long overlooked upon its release. This was partly due to the fact that Miramax did a lousy job at distributing the film, but only a handful of critics like Jonathan Rosenbaum recognized this film as a masterpiece. I saw Dead Man on the first screening of its premiere.
After my first viewing, I had various problems with the film. I thought the film seemed too heavy on poetry and symbolism and I also felt that things didn't seem real or authentic enough to be part of a historical period. Other times, I felt the film was confused about its mood. Sometimes it seemed deeply serious and other times it seemed silly and absurd. Not until repeated viewings did I discover how appropriate these observations were to the film.
Dead Man is a film that deals with a man's journey through a series of death experiences. Blake's destiny was originally to be an accountant for Dickinson Metalworks in the town of Machine. After some unfortunate events, William Blake is suddenly caught laying in the woods with a bullet next to his heart. A Native American named "Nobody" becomes his new mentor for his ill-fated journey.
We've come to understand through previous Jarmusch films that cultural influence is an inevitable part of life. Dead Man expands on this fact by demonstrating what happens when cultures clash. There is a hierarchal conflict with reality. Part of this is due to politics but it is also due to religious consequences. I've read reviews by critics who seemed puzzled by the reference to the poet and artist William Blake. There is a reflection to the poet's Christian background and his influences with other mystical beliefs. There is a famous poem sited in the film: "some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night." As one culture dies, another is born.The film comes full circle when Blake ends on the boat looking up at the moving sky. This is a great film. I can still see this today after repeated viewings and always find something new.