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How The Dead Don't Die Perfectly Depicts People In A Zombie Apocalypse

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Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die is a subtle masterpiece of metafiction and social commentary, and at the same time, it perfectly depicts people in a zombie apocalypse. The characters react to the start of a zombie apocalypse in a variety of ways, but very rarely do they react in the correct ways, i.e. ways that result in their survival. Even those characters with considerable zombie knowledge end up doing almost everything wrong, like local subculture aficionado Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones). As a result, everyone dies at the end, except for Tom Waits' Hermit Bob and Tilda Swinton's alien Zelda. As the 2020 pandemic has shown, this is likely the more realistic take on how people would behave.

The two lead characters, Cliff and Ronald, played by Bill Murray and Adam Driver respectively, are probably the best examples of how The Dead Don't Die perfectly depicts people in a zombie apocalypse. They seem to be completely desensitized to violence and don't react rationally to life-threatening situations. They do everything wrong and endanger the lives of the whole town as well as their own. This is first shown at the very beginning of the movie when Hermit Bob shoots at them. Adam Driver's character reacts, almost shooting back, but he never seems to have any emotions about it. This is clearly a comment on society's general unpreparedness and ineptitude.

As the bodies start to pile up and the rest of the town reacts in fear, Cliff and Ronald seem to be the least emotionally disturbed by the events. Ronald is actually the first to mention the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. Cliff doesn't believe him at first and ridicules the suggestion, much like modern climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers. Despite Ronald's warning, however, even he doesn't seem worried or prepared to survive. Similarly, Bobby and Hank (Danny Glover) seem worried, but still make bad decisions. They barricade themselves in a hardware store, but without checking the back door first, a death sentence in any zombie movieโ€”and possibly the movie's most apt metaphor for modern society.

What The Dead Don't Die Gets Right About Zombie Apocalypse Survival

Fans of the zombie sub-genre are known for discussing and criticizing zombie apocalypse survival techniques. Many believe that there's a universally correct way to survive and of course, that they would survive. Zombie apocalypse movies, however, are essentially a balancing act between survivors, casualties, and of course, zombies. Some people survive, others die, and some become zombies. In this respect, what the The Dead Don't Die gets right about zombie apocalypse survival is how it upsets this balancing act. By focusing on a group of people who stunningly do all the wrong things, it highlights modern society's (now obvious) lack of preparedness in the face of a global crisis. In the movie, almost everyone dies at the end despite their respective skills, authority, and knowledge. Released in 2019, the movie turns out to have been a frighteningly accurate prediction of 2020.

Most zombie apocalypse movies do reference the wrong way to do things in a zombie apocalypse but usually while simultaneously highlighting the correct way. A great example of this is the zombie comedy Zombieland, which dedicates a lot of screen time to discussing the dos and don'ts of a zombie apocalypse. This imbalance in The Dead Don't Die is a criticism of the genre as well as a criticism of audience assumptions that a "correct way" to react during a global existential crisis even exists. In light of 2020's real-life pandemic, it turns out that the movie, much like its avant-garde director, Jim Jarmusch, was ahead of its time.

The Dead Don't Die essentially states that there is no correct way to react to a global crisis, and even if there were a correct way, people wouldn't adhere to it. This is highlighted in the scene in which Ronald tells Cliff that he has read the movie's script and has known how it was going to end all along. He had the key to the town's survival the whole time, but simply chose not to use itโ€”a very suitable analogy for 2020.
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