‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Summary & Ending, Explained – Zombie World of Jim Jarmusch


The Dead Don’t Die is a conventional zombie film with Jarmusch’s touch. Director Jim Jarmusch is widely considered for his distinctive narrative style and character development. Extended and unhurried scenes with a deadpan comic execution are his constant approaches. His zombie film is filled with his iconic gestures like a diversified ensemble cast, America from foreign eyes and most importantly, the jazz-blues tempo. The film is an oddball comedy that incorporates surreal elements to exhibit humor and wit.

Plot Summary

Set in Centreville, Virginia, the film follows a rural community with a population of 738 people. Jarmusch makes a distinctive statement to introduce the city by quoting it “A Really Nice Place” (as seen on the milestone). The two police officers, Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) patrol around the city to establish it for the audience.

The city has one diner, one juvenile detention center, one funeral home, one motel, one gas station and one police station. The juvenile detention center is another suggestive remark that a detention center is much more important than a hospital in an American rural state.

Life in Centreville is mundane but satisfactory until Peterson notices an extended daytime. According to the radio news, the cycle of the earth’s rotation on its axis has changed due to Polar Fracking. In scientific terms, Fracking is a hydraulic process of recovering gas and oil from underground. Polar Fracking relates to the digging near the axis that might have affected the earth’s rotation as it spins on its axis (basic science). Well, it is not the subject of the film.

The irregular day-night timelines disrupt the natural functioning of the planet. Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) notices strange vegetation and ant colonies in the jungle. At night he observes Toxic Lunar Vibrations coming from Moon. These vibrations incite the rise of the dead from their graves, who eventually attack Centerville. The film further explores the struggle of the living against the dead as they initiate a pursuit for survival.

Major Spoilers Ahead

‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Ending Explained

The film has a surreal and bizarre ending. As known to the audience, the zombie army takes over the city, killing each individual on its way. Like the dinner ladies, most of the residents, the motel owner, the gas station owner, the hippie travelers, and others are dead.

The only survivors are Robertson, Ronnie Peterson, and the funeral home owner, Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton). The last sequence establishes that Zelda is an alien who came to visit the USA as part of a vacation. She uses the computer in the police station to call her taxi (UFO) to go back to her planet when zombies take over. Robertson and Peterson are the real witnesses to this bizarre surrealism.

Before they meet their end, Peterson informs Robertson that Jim (a reference to Jim Jarmusch) had let him read the whole script because of which he knew from the beginning that things aren’t going to end up well. But he didn’t write anything about alien invasion; he was just aware of a zombie invasion. Robertson loads his gun in the end and jumps on the battleground. Their end fight with the zombies is overshadowed by Hermit Bob’s voice-over, who philosophically connects zombies with humans.

According to him, the zombies are mindless folks just like their predecessor humans. They are always hungry for more living beings, just like living beings show an eternal hunger for worldly things. The world isn’t only in chaos because of a Zombie invasion. Things were already in disarray with lifeless humans, roaming around the face of the earth, without any motive. Their only pursuit was material gain. The layer has been extensively underlined by high-tech cars, increasing the production value of the film. Like the characters in the movie, the Americans are also obsessed with steel on four wheels, which serves no real purpose at the end of the day. He also makes a Gatsby Joke to portray that we are a generation that remembers the plethora of car models but not our literary authors. Well, to his genius, The Dead Don’t Die is stuffed with such intelligent remarks. Hence, it has much of a surreal ending than a straightforward one. How you see it depends upon your perspective.

The Dead Don’t Die is a 2019 Zombie surreal comedy film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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