For almost thirty years now the auteur filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has been creating a body of work that is the epitome of cinematic cool. Jarmusch’s films are defined by their hip blend of droll humour, minimalism and more recently, spirituality. Jarmusch seems to draw his inspiration from a variety of diverse sources but in his latest film The Limits of Control it appears that the films of European art house heavy weights Michelangelo Antonioni (in particular The Passanger) and Wim Wenders seem to be his main points of reference. In Jarmusch’s most minimalist film yet, The Limits of Control depicts the actions of the Lone Man who travels across Spain collecting clues and exchanging information in order to fulfil his unknown mission. Played by Isaach De Bankolé, who played the ice-cream vendor in Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and the French taxi driver in Night on Earth (also Jarmusch), the Lone Man has a photographic memory, is ultra disciplined and is almost a complete blank slate. The ensemble of mysterious people he meets during his mission all deliver abstract instructions, strange philosophical advice and musings on topics such as music, film, science, bohemians and hallucinogenic drugs.
The Limits of Control is in many ways a companion piece to Jarmusch’s previous film Broken Flowers as it is structurally similar and spends a lot of time focusing on the ‘dead time’ in life that is occupied by waiting for something to happen or being in transit. However, The Limits of Control has even less narrative drive than Broken Flowers making it a more meditative experience. The repetition of dialogue, actions and motifs plays a big part in The Limits of Control giving it a Zen like quality that is akin to dreaming. As the woman who is simply known as Blonde (Tilda Swinton) says, “The best films are like dreams you’re never really sure you had”. There are many self-reflexive moments in The Limits of Control but this line of dialogue is probably the most revealing.
The key to what makes The Limits of Control such a rich cinematic experience is the cinematography by Christopher Doyle. Doyle is arguably the greatest working cinematographer today and The Limits of Control is as much his film as it is Jarmusch’s. Doyle’s cinematography is as close to perfection as you can get and every shot is immaculately framed. The Limits of Control is an exquisite visual accomplishment.
It feels as if Jarmusch has been building to a film like The Limits of Control for a long time now and although it is a magnificent work it does lack some of the humour and humanity of previous work, in particular Down By Law and his masterpiece Dead Man. Nevertheless, this is a film worth seeing and savouring. It is a sort of puzzle where you could spend a lot of – possibly fruitless – time attempting to decode and explain it. But in a very general sense it is a film about the power of abstractions, such as film, art and music, to reflect life and by doing so transcend the limitations imposed on us through traditional notions of what constitutes as reality. Sound reasonable?