Watching Ghost Dog can leave you with mixed feelings everywhere. Itís difficult to qualify this film as a low-level action thriller or a fast paced drama or even a comedy, since due to the many levels or genres that this movie works with. Despite that, it still has the ability to impress because of the filmís evocative message, unique storytelling and its in-depth symbolism, that is groundbreaking in every level. It certainly impressed me, since Iíve never seen film like it, and also left me with some weird feeling thatís almost impossible to describe.Ghost Dog is the story ofÖGhost Dog (Forest Whitaker), a lonely serial killer who lives in a rooftop with his messenger pigeons and following the Hagakure code, or the Way of the Samurai, which teaches a person everything about honor and discipline. He gets hired for a job through his ďmasterĒ Louie (John Tormey), a mob guy who saved him when he was a kid, but that job for some reason -not Dogís fault- doesnít please the other head mob guys, since Louise (Tricia Vessey), the daughter of one of the mob guyís was present, and makes our hunter the hunted, despite the fact that the mob guys donít know shit about this guy. So now he must take measures to evade his killers and fight back, but always sticking by his code, which means he canít harm his master, or any servant. Along the way we meet his best friend Raymond, The Ice Cream Man (Isaak De Bankole), and a little girl called Pearline (Camille Winbush), both who would play a crucial part in the film.
"A well constructed, groundbreaking film"
All along the film you can appreciate the many symbolic details that Jarmusch implants in the entire film, giving it more depth, and more meaning. The film uses a basic rule of what a motion picture or movie is: A story in pictures. The storyline is the backbone of the film; it gives the film its course. But thatís the only thing it does. The rest of the film relies on symbolism. And the symbolism gives you questions you have to answer. Hence this gives this ordinary story itís depth and meaningfulness.
So, Ghost Dog follows this code because he feels that he owes Louie his life, a servant is always loyal to his retainer, thatís what the Hagakure teaches. Ghost Dog thinks of himself as a samurai, he has a retainer and does everything that the retainer tells them. One would normally say that this is ridiculous, that guy has gone wacko, heís following a pointless life, a life that was practiced a thousand years ago, and now is obsolete. Well, is it? If his life were that pointless will he be still doing this? How Ďbout the guy building his boat on the roof? That boat will never sail, itís pointless, or is it? What about the rappers? In all these sequences the film gives out the point that everyone has his own pointless acts in life, including us, why is it that people wonder why others do ďsupposedlyď pointless things when we have to look at ourselves and figure out why is it that we do what we do? We do these things for a reason, a reason that we only know within ourselves, and itís that reason that gives us something worthy of getting up in the morning and do what we do.
The mob guys, we know nothing about them except that theyíre old, and donít do anything, just give the order to kill Ghost Dog and thatís it. But interestingly, thereís always a cartoon show they watch. What are cartoons? Just comics about some dude pursuing some dude for no reason over and over. And according to the film, the life of the mob guys is in some sort of decay, they're supposed to be were the rulers of the city, but not anymore, the times have changed, and they havenít changed their ways. Theyíre still living the old ways, and havenít evolved, hence their lives are cartoons, since they do nothing, and arenít respected anymore, and the cartoons they watch reflect their actual lives. Same thing with Ghost Dog, he lives the past, and tries to make the past work in the present, hence another cartoon.
The film gives also an interesting relationship between Ghost Dog and his best friend, Raymond. They donít know what each other say, since they speak different languages but they understand each other, since they both live similar lonely lives, but itís through Raymond that we are revealed Ghost Dogís character, through the description of the Bearís way of life. Pearline, is basically Ghost Dogís pupil, eventually, since he welcomes her to read the Hagakure, which eventually will teach her his ways, voluntarily of course. All in all, itís a samurai story, translated and adapted to modern life, and the subsequent out comings are weird to us, but in someway makes sense since it reflects the life of ancient warlords and their servants, and how they ruled over in the world, and after times passed, these people become less important and arenít respected as fearlessly as before, hence the evolution of times, and their refusal to let go of the ancient ways, prompts their decadence and fall.
Whatís most captivating about Jarmuschís work here is that all this symbols and metaphors he carefully lays all over the film makes the it work along the story smoothly and perfectly. It borrows from many genres, it could be funny it could be mysterious, thereís some shooting, but thereís no way to describe the film, yet it works, because Jarmusch avoids the everyday formulaic clichťs that screw many films and breaks new ground by borrowing from many genres in filmmaking and adapting them to his story, and the final product is like nothing weíve seen before, and in the end, the only words that fit this result is that itís simply, a work of art. The filmís use of the basic rule in motion pictures, plus the depth and significance of it, gives proof to that. Basically, itís a well-constructed film, which we take a good look at the process of the art of filmmaking. The cast of the film is great and all fill the roles perfectly, and no character is without a meaning.In the end, this film is an innovative piece of work. Iíve never seen a director like Jim Jarmusch make a film that works in many levels and pull off all of them like this one. Itís an amazing film, that only gets better and better every time you see it again. This film was truly a work of art, and is recommended for everyone, especially film students, since this film is a primal example of how and why filmmaking is an art.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2140&reviewer=235
originally posted: 07/16/01 12:55:35