The first time I saw “Dead Man” was by sheer accident. I was channel surfing as it came on.
The fact that it stars Johnny Depp in the title role, made it promising, and he’s very good in the film.
The first sequence shows him as a passenger on a train, arguably the best-dressed, or at least the most formal. As the journey continues, the passengers change from being family types to gritty frontiersmen, who take a second or two to raise the windows and shoot at stampeding buffalo.
Depp is headed toward Machine, the end of the line; a one-company town, where he has been offered a job at the foundry as an accountant. Upon arrival, he learns from a crusty toady and even from the gun wielding boss himself, played menacingly enough by Robert Michum, that he’s too late.
The post was given to someone else, a month before. It seems his invitation, at this point is two months old. (Depp had to bury his parents before leaving Cleveland, that’s all we’re told.)
Retiring to the saloon, where his small change will only buy him a pint of whiskey, Depp meets a local flower girl who sells paper creations; the implication being that nothing as delicate as real flowers can take root in muddy, grimy Machine.
She invites Depp back to her room; they’re discovered by her errant beau, whom she insults, and he plugs her with a bullet as she throws herself in front of Depp, either to save him or because she’s ready to move on.
Depp returns fire, felling her boyfriend, played by a twitchy Gabriel Byrne. Then, Depp notices that Byrne’s bullet passed through the girl and entered his slowly bleeding chest, where it is now lodged perilously near his heart.
Depp flees on Byrne’s pinto. Every lowlife in the west is lured into hunting for Depp based on a $500 reward offered by Mitchum. We’re told Byrne was Mitchum’s boy, and Mitchum is pissed about that loss, but perhaps even more incensed about losing his prized pinto
An unconscious Depp is found and nursed by a Native American who has people call him, Nobody.
Nobody treats Depp as if he’s already dead, speaking to him about the spirit world, and taking Depp deep into Native country to find a proper send-off into the world beyond.
The key question that the film raises for the martial artist is: “What kind of life do we live when we consider ourselves already dead?”
And, is it helpful to think of ourselves as dead, though we’re still breathing and eating and functioning in this world?
Arguably, to be a martial artist, you need to accept and to confront the inevitability of death, which can happen on the mat, through a simple mistake, or out on the street, at the hands of a foe.
Theoretically, when you know you’re dying, or think of yourself as already dead, you can let go of holding back.
Depp’s transformation is worth seeing, and this movie adds yet another interesting view of what the Wild West was about.
Dr. Gary S. Goodman is the best-selling author of 12 books, over 600 articles, and the creator of numerous audio and video training programs, including “The Law of Large Numbers: How To Make Success Inevitable,” published by Nightingale-Conant-a favorite among salespeople and entrepreneurs. For information about booking Gary to speak at your next sales, customer service or management meeting, conference or convention, please address your inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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