The Capitalist is Dead / Long Live Capitalism – Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control


Even for long-time fans, there’s a lot to dislike about Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control. The cast of cool friends, fun in a spot-the-celeb way (“Oh! It’s John Hurt. And Gael García Bernal. And Tilda Swinton”), but otherwise distracting in a special-interpretative-pleading-needed-to-make-this-ok kind of way. The super chic flamenco, which is great, but also probably not needed, and certainly better administered by another dose of Blood Wedding. The super cool impassive hero in a series of beautiful sharkskin suits, though, I confess, I would have loved this stuff at age 20 and probably love it now.

Worst, there’s Paz de la Huerta, playing “The Nude Woman.” Oh, please. But it’s not as if any of the other characters have names. That’s not the problem. It’s that she’s the only one defined by what she’s not wearing. She’s an absence, a classic woman-in-a-crime-movie-as-incarnated-mystery and thus all too familiar. When we first meet her, she’s on our hero’s hotel bed, naked, waiting for him with a gun, glaring at him–but, like, sensually–over her clunky glasses, and demanding to know whether he “likes [her] ass.” That’s the crime movie girl reverse engineered to its 3 or 4 parts, which can be done, but why?

For me, The Limits of Control redeems itself only at its end, when–SPOILER–The Lone Man (Isaach de Bankolé) sneaks into a heavily guarded complex (how? “I used my imagination”) and garrotes The American (Bill Murray). Murray’s even wearing a little flag pin on his lapel, like an asshole. Later, we see The Lone Man change into a football jacket, abandon his bag and his fancy suits in a public locker, and walk off, anonymous and invisible, into a European crowd. He got away with it.

After finishing the movie, I found this through my twitter feed:

BP CEO Robert Dudley told Businessweek in an interview Thursday that continuing to send millions of dollars to people who claim they were hurt by the 2010 disaster is “not good for America.” While BP is trying to halt its payments and reduce the amount owed to victims, Dudley claimed the company has been the wronged party

And I thought: this is the kind of person that we would be better off without. This is the kind of person Limits of Control targets. And, in watching the target go down, we remember the limits of control: whatever The American (or The Oil Man, in this case) gets away with, he still has a neck, and necks can be strangled.

The limits of control: enrich yourselves however you like, kill as many of us as you like, bomb us, but we have the numbers, and we, too, can take you out, capitalist. That’s a nice fantasy, particularly when thinking about BP. This limit of control, however, goes both ways. It’s both that of individual vulnerability and also what might as well be the invulnerability of the entire system.


The talents belong to the operation long before they are put on show; otherwise they would not conform so easily.

The individual doesn’t matter all that much, and neither does individual motivation. Because The Lone Man tells us so, we know The American’s not killed for revenge. And The American’s motivations don’t matter that much either.

The American is America, just as Robert Dudley is the Oil Industry. And playing this role, the American, or Dudley, couldn’t have done anything else. Like any actor, he can spice any role with his little schtick, but the role is the role he’s in. Bill Murray, famous-friend-annoyingly-in-a-cameo, gives us a bit of Murray, but his part could have been done by any older white guy: which is kind of the point, and kind of redeems this cameo.

Kill as many CEOs as can be killed and what will change? Not much. Maybe not anything apart from their deaths. In this movie, at least, nothing seems to change. Dying and killing both are the limits of control, and, at least in this context, they’re limits that end with the individual, which means they matter nearly not at all for much else. On the level of most violence, the limits of vulnerability are limits that check any hope, or fear, of the collapse of any system.

Jarmusch gives us the fantasy of targeting the CEO and then gives us: nothing. A realized fantasy that can go no further than that.

And I suppose that’s why real change needs a legislature. It needs law, a group slog, and years of efforts, none of which makes for a cool movie, but some of which might have a chance of hitting a CEO where it actually hurts.