A self-styled New York hipster is paid a surprise visit by his younger cousin from Budapest. From initial hostility and indifference a small degree of affection grows between the two. Along with a friend, they eventually end up visiting their aunt in the wastelands of Cleveland and then proceed to Florida where they lose all their money gambling before unwittingly gaining a fortune.
A dark, bitter commentary on modern American life cloaked in the form of a surrealist western, Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man stars Johnny Depp as William Blake, a newly-orphaned accountant who leaves his home in Cleveland to accept a job in the frontier town of Machine. Upon his arrival, Blake is told by the factory owner Dickinson (Robert Mitchum) that the job has already been filled. Dejectedly, he enters a nearby tavern, ultimately spending the night with a former prostitute. A violent altercation with the woman's lover (Gabriel Byrne), also Dickinson's son, leaves Blake a murderer as well as mortally wounded, a bullet lodged dangerously close to his heart. He flees into the wilderness, where a Native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer) mistakes Blake for the English poet William Blake and determines that he will be Blake's guide in his protracted passage into the spirit world.
Jarmusch has been characterized as a minimalist filmmaker, and his idiosyncratic films unhurried. His films often eschew traditional narrative structure, lacking clear plot progression and focusing more on mood and character development. Jarmusch's early work is marked by a brooding, contemplative tone, featuring extended silent scenes and prolonged still shots. He has experimented with a vignette format in three films either released or begun around the early nineties: Mystery Train, Night on Earth, and Coffee and Cigarettes. Jarmusch's approach to filmmaking—in the words of The Salt Lake Tribune critic Sean P. Means—involves "blending film styles and genres with sharp wit and dark humor", and is pervaded by a signature deadpan comedic tone.