Otherness and the Renewal of Freedom in Jarmusch's Down by Law: A Levinasian and Arendtian Reading

Mark Cauchi


In this essay I argue that Down by Law (Jarmusch, 1986) is about how the encounter with otherness renews freedom and American identity.  I first develop the idea of renewal through otherness by way of a discussion of Levinas' philosophy of freedom and Arendt's notion natality, contrasting it with the idea of negative liberty, which I explicate through a discussion of Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, and Tocqueville.  Next, I show how negative liberty is engrained in the idea of America through a discussion of the formative American motifs of the road and the prison, which play structuring roles in Down by Law.  I then try to show how the immigrant character of Bob (Roberto Benigni) is an other who liberates the American characters of Jack (John Lurie) and Zack (Tom Waits), who are existentially 'imprisoned' by their negative liberty.


Jarmusch; Down by Law; Levinas; Arendt; Otherness; Freedom

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