By Afra Nariman
Night On Earth (1991)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Roberto Benigni, Gena Rowlands, Winona Ryder, Armin Mueller-Stahi, Rosie Perez, Isaach de Bankolé
Five Taxi cab rides that take place in 5 different cities around the world during the course of one night.
Jim Jarmusch has shown a curiosity and interest in the “in-between” moments of our day, as I mentioned in my review of Coffee and Cigarettes. When making Night on Earth, he sought to have a film to answer the question of what happens during a taxi ride. He has mentioned that in many films, a scene will show a character call for a taxi and get in, only for the scene to cut. The next thing we would see is the character paying the cab driver and exiting the car. Jarmusch wondered, what if the film showed what happened inside the taxi cab? Anyone who has taken cab rides in the past knows that some of the most interesting conversations you can have are with taxi drivers. Jarmusch, captivated by this curiosity, decided to make Night on Earth. And we should all be thankful that he did.
Consisting of five 20-25 minute cab rides in 5 different cities around the world, all in a single night, this film is wildly entertaining. In Los Angeles, a young woman drives a taxi cab and picks up a Hollywood agent from the airport. In New York City, a newly immigrated German and a local man bond over their unique names. In Paris, a cab driver from the Ivory Coast is mistreated by a couple of intoxicated diplomats and drives a beautiful blind woman to her destination. In Rome, Roberto Benigni plays a eccentric cab driver who unloads his deepest and most wildly inappropriate secrets on an elderly priest. And finally, in Helsinki, a humble cab driver shares an emotional story with a group of young and drunk strangers.
Although you may not expect it, this anthology is hilarious and heartwarming. The film encompasses what makes us human, our interactions with strangers and our emotional and comedic moments that often go unnoticed. It also portrays the various personalities of different people, from different walks of life, backgrounds and countries. The fact that the film is given to us in four different languages: English, French, Italian and Finnish, gives it a worldly and culturally diverse aura. The fast paced short stories, all in which take place inside of a taxi cab, combined with the music of Tom Waits, which serves as the transitional theme song in between cities, helps inject the film with a certain liveliness. The fact that all of this is happening in middle of the night, that it features a cast of unique and fascinating characters and that each story is connected through Waits’ lively soundtrack, give Night on Earth a romantic and enchanting mood.
Jarmusch has proved himself to be a master of anthology films. His first go at it was with Mystery Train in 1989. With Night on Earth, two years later, he embraced the anthology style even further, creating five completely separate stories, taking place in 5 different cities around the world, tied together only by the theme of a taxi ride and by memorable misfits as the characters, each of whom contribute to the unparalleled brilliance of the film. This is among Jarmusch’s most entertaining and enjoyable films to watch. It’s raw and human, romantic and comedic and at times, emotionally exhilarating. It touches on the human realities of tragedy, shame, curiosity, ambition, kindness, pride, guilt and solidarity. Night on Earth is one of the best pure anthology films out there and beautifully answers the question of: what happens inside the taxi cab ride? In the simplest terms, it is a portrayal of human life; the interesting and unique subtleties of people, the random conversations we have with strangers and the emotional connections that we can make in the matter of the time that it takes to drive from one side of town to another.