The film Down by Law, directed by Jim Jarmusch, has certainly defined itself for its unique artistic style. This style brings about realistic depictions of a character in a specific setting. Using Robert Muller’s black and white cinematography, this helps bring out the beautiful atmosphere and scenes. The opening shot is a shot of a mysterious cemetery and then the camera quickly pans past the cemetery’s memorials and then zoomed past many houses and shacks that represented that house with the dead in the previous shot.
This shows us that the two main characters, Zack and Jack, are already burying themselves into their own grave to begin with. Thus, we can say that Jarmusch’s decision for making this more of a film that centers around character attributes and settings as oppose to a straight up narrative that described Jack and Zack’s story. Every single shot in this film allows us to see the great use of Black and white cinematography that allows us to see how each scene fits the character’s role.
This film focuses on the two characters named Zack and Jack and the replicating scenarios of getting set up and are destined to clash again. Zack, also known as Lee “Baby” Sims, is introduced as a carefree, drunk who cares for his expensive shoes rather than his girlfriend constantly flaming that he is wasting his life away. Zack is a good Radio Jockey who is constantly losing his job because he won’t cooperate with the people he’s working with. All Zack needed to do was “Jerk people off” says his girlfriend and everything would be alright. Jarmusch) The scene where his girlfriend decides to throw away all his records because she feels is just a waste shows that he is truly hopeless. Just by looking at Zack’s facial expression drinking and only caring about his favorite shoes shows that he’s more concerned with preserving his personal image over anything else in the world. Working as a Radio DJ, this helps the structure of the film by having a little connection between Jack while they are locked inside a small cell. He is able to show off what he his radio jockey voice, thus bringing them a little closer, even though things are still tense.
Jack is introduced as an amateur hustler that seems really careless when it comes to working a job of his kind. He gets set up because when it comes to working he has more heart to persuade other by using his surplus connections and resources, but shows how he is careless and is set up by one of his friends. He is also wasting his life away because he spends all his money on gambling, drugs, hookers. Entering his cell, Jack’s perspective of this place is surreal because he feels he doesn’t belong and thinks he’s still “boss” of some sort thus creating minor arguments with his cellmate, Zack.
After spending some quality time with each other, Zack and Jack are introduced another cell mate, Roberto also known as Bob, who is a character in the film that begins to make and structure where the movie is going. As a spectator and not knowing he is a comedian he really shows his true personality and how he tries to use American sayings such as “not enough room to swing a cat” (Jarmusch) These three characters make a mixture of personalities that balance perfectly.
Roberto acts as the third wheel that connects the two conflicting characters together. Roberto eventually plans out an idea that gets Jack and Zack out of prison in an escape that symbolizes even with conflicting personalities, they were able to overcome their expected frustration with each other and sympathize as a group. This film allows us to see two different elements put together in a confined space and see how they react when they are next to each other. For the most part, Down By Law shows us a more comedic side by introducing Roberto.
I feel like Roberto takes this film into a more realistic perspective instead of being fully scripted. The fact that Roberto is Italian and there’s a language barrier between Roberto and his two cell mates, Zack and Jack, shows us how race and ethnicity can help structure a film because it allows the plot to flow from one scene to another. For example in the film, where they escape to outside of the prison and find a store called “Luigi’s Tin Roof” I feel like Roberto acts as a proxy that shows Zack and Jack a way out of their problems.
After arguing in the wilderness and finally connecting back together eating rabbits, they can see that their dominance mentality has to go and have not served them well. Without the different angles, perfect Louisiana location, the close ups, and tracking shots, the film wouldn’t make sense. This film combines different elements of mood, character development and is reinforced by its music and image choice. Thus, I feel like Down by Law is certainly one of Jarmusch’s successes in form of structure, and character.
This is because with the ability to combine elements and how each element emphasizes each part of the film we are able to interpret what will go on from one shot to another. We are able to somewhat interpret what will go on because the film devices that allowed these subtle transitions from one scene to another. An example of this is in the wilderness where they argue about who is the leader and they all run off going their own ways, eventually comes back to Roberto. This transition was subtle, but helped the film’s structure.
At the end of the film where they are parting at the crossroads, Zack and Jack reach a point in their relationship when they exchanged jackets before going their separate ways down the crossroad. In conclusion, the film’s deals with individual personal growth that are bought on growing together and becoming attached to one another. All of these Characters in the film really don’t need any background information because of their behavior, reason for living, and various emotions that allows us to know who and what they are willing to do without having a long back story that’ll explain each and every person.
Muller’s ability to make the visuals that blend in with the characters is by far the better part of the film. It helped the film flow smoothly throw specific scene and transitions that were meant to be obvious, hidden. Clearly this film isn’t intended to be watch over and over, but is a film that has meaning behind its characters and not to tell us any clear message because it is a story of personalities that are significant to this film.