Jarmuschian Emancipation: The Limits of Control

I can’t say The Limits of Control is my Jarmusch’s favourite movie. In fact, it’s not even in my top five. So why am I writing about it here? First, it is one of the films in which I can easily point to the notion of Jarmuschian emancipation. Second, it’s still a good film: full of professional cinematic techniques and, like other Jarmusch’s movies, references to other great films in the history of cinema. Third, I wanted to finish the project, Jarmuschian Emancipation. Fourth, I felt the need to publish a post this month and I was low on researched topics.

The story that “The Limits of Control” tells, or better, the way it is told, is too straightforward, with too obvious a message and without the profound depth that you expect of Jarmusch’s films.

Quotes, literary references and wise phrases are very common in Jarmusch’s films. In films such as “Dead man” and “Ghost Dog”, the demonstration of wisdom (or seemingly wisdom) not only feels natural but also gives a certain depth to the whole plot. The range of quotes and wise phrases are very wide. In “The Limits of Control”, by contrast, the range of quotes is limited and they are repeated frequently. They don’t feel very natural, either. So, the result, sadly, is not attractive and in some cases even repelling.

“He who thinks he’s bigger than the rest, must go to the cemetery. There he will see what life really is. It’s a handful of dust”

Caution: Although I don’t believe that knowing the end of a good movie can ruin the experience, I have to mention that in this review, I’m giving away the ending. So, in case you haven’t seen the film and seriously think you won’t enjoy the film knowing its ending, stop here and please do come back later


In this film, the characters have no names of their own. If they are to be called, they are recognised by their special characteristics.

The film starts with the protagonist, “The Lone Man”, in an airport. Similar to “Ghost Dog”, he is not white. Two men, “The Creole” and “The Frenchman”, are assigning a task to him. The process is, however, completely against our expectations: no money involved, lots of quotes, with the focus on art and wisdom.

“Use your imagination and your skills”.

“Everything is subjective”.

“The universe has no centre and no edges”.

“Reality is arbitrary”.

Up until the end of the film, we do not understand what the assignment is. However, we do observe that to accomplish the task, The Lone Man has to meet with several people, each giving him a message.

2The messages are pieces of paper with some letters written on them. They are all in matchboxes with a picture of a boxer. Just like “Ghost Dog”, The Lone Man eats the messages after reading and passes the empty matchbox to the next messenger.

The people who deliver the messages are artists and scientists. They give “The Lone Man” their matchboxes and get an empty one as well as whatever he has for them. The messengers, in order, are The Man with Violin, The Blonde (an actress), The Nude Woman, Molecules (who talks about science), The Man with Guitar (who discusses with him art and bohemians), The Mexican and The Driver.

4“The Nude Woman” appears several times at different places during the film. As the name suggests, she is always naked. Despite her physical beauty, The Lone Man doesn’t even try to have sex with her. When asked if he doesn’t like sex, he replies, “never while I’m working”. This is another contrast of this protagonist with what expect of this genre.

9The Lone Man doesn’t seem to sleep while he is on his mission. Moreover, he only wears one suit until he finishes the assignment. He is, however, interested in ancient, Eastern, martial arts and practices Tai Chi every day. He likes painting too and visits art galleries. His way of gallery visits is also different. At each visit, he only watches one piece intently and leaves. He never takes a tour of the entire gallery.

Music is another art that The Lone Man enjoys. We see him in a rehearsal of a Spanish performative art consisting of music, singing and dance. Despite his normal silence and apparent seriousness, in this occasion, the Lone Man smiles and applauds.

By the end, he “uses his imagination” and passes the heavy security of a remote building. There he kills The American, the one who, on the surface, seems to have the “control”.8-1

The American: “… you think by eliminating me, you’ll eliminate the control over some fucking artificial reality”

The Lone Man: “Reality is arbitrary”


Facts for comparison

  • 11The protagonist is:
    • Single
    • Lonesome
    • not white
  • The protagonist likes:
    • Music
    • Painting
    • Easter martial arts
  • The protagonist lives at the end.
  • A genre is manipulated.
  • America is criticised.

3 thoughts on “Jarmuschian Emancipation: The Limits of Control

  1. As a matter of fact, I do like the film. Not necessarily in a way it bounds into the concept of emancipation you’re about to deploy, but in a way that Jarmusch voyages in Spain with his beautiful camera position before or within a backdrop. The Limits of Control‘s backgrounds of landscape and architecture are more than just backgrounds – they are part of the film’s significance. I believe you forget this ‘architectural’ factor, so you might rewatch the film not based on narrative but based on its magnificent visual language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, and I’ve said in the post, that there are wonderful scenes and masterful shots in the film. It’s a Jarmusch film. But I’m not a technical film expert and the Jarmuschian emancipation project is not about cinematic techniques. It’s about the films’ messages and the way they are told. In the limits of control, the message, for my taste, is annoyingly obvious. That’s all.

      Liked by 1 person

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