Last week Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control came out on DVD. I loved it, and was completely baffled by the weird, negative response to it. Baffled, and a little depressed. Has Jarmusch really changed so much that his existential road trips don't work anymore? Or is it that we have grown far too lazy to enjoy them? Twenty-five years ago, Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise -- another existential road trip -- opened, and it caused quite a stir in the fledgling "indie" world. It gained a small and passionate following, and its funky, deadpan humor tapped into something. Hardly anything happens in the film. A girl from Hungary comes to visit her cousin in New York. They spend a few aimless days together and she leaves. Later, the cousin and his friend travel to Cleveland to see her again, and the three of them decide to drive to Florida.
Even when something happens in this film, such as a mysterious bagman botching a dropoff, it happens without any kind of setup or payoff. It just sort of drops into the frame and then out again. Even the road trip itself is uneventful and passes quickly. The travelers don't meet any quirky characters or get into chases. They just drive and arrive at their destination. Really, there's not much difference between that film and The Limits of Control, which tells the story of a hitman preparing to do a job. He travels from place to place and collects several peculiar clues before finally arriving at his destination. His actual mission is completed in much the same matter-of-fact way, without much fanfare. The films feature the same kind of deadpan dialogue and gorgeous cinematography, highlighting spare backgrounds.