Saturday, May 3, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive Movie Review

Make no mistake about it, when Jim Jarmusch makes a vampire movie, he’s not jumping on the popularity bandwagon behind “True Blood” and the Twilight series. Those pieces of pop culture are so far outside the realm of what Jarmusch is known for that if he even gave them a second thought while he was writing and developing Only Lovers Left Alive, it was to check in on the ways his movie would be a hipper, cooler, and more loath response to soap opera lust.

Jarmusch is, if nothing else, eternally cool and hip. This is true even though his greatest audience, the film buffs who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, have now reached middle age and probably don’t have much time for indie cinema anymore. Because to watch a vampire movie made by this craftsman whose signature style is contemplation, reservation, and quietude followed by the inevitably dry offhand remark is to see the coolest damn vampires the movies have ever given us.


I hesitate to offer much in the way of plot description. Jarmusch films are rarely long on plot. They are mood pieces. His interest lies in creating a certain mystique, an aura around his characters, the majority of whom offer little in the way of conversation. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston play a pair of vampire lovers. She resides in Tangier while he works on his rock music in far off Detroit. Jarmusch leaves it to the viewer to guess why they don’t live together. My guess is that after centuries of being in love and together, being an overnight plane ride away (yes, that’s how they get around) and not seeing each other for months or possibly years at a time doesn’t seem so long. They are named Adam and Eve. Are we meant to think they are the first couple? Doubtful. That’s probably Jarmusch having a little fun with suggestion.

But they do come together, mainly because Adam is feeling depressed of late, brought down by humanity, whom they refer to as zombies. Adam lives an analog life in a digital world. His well-paid human gofer, Ian (Anton Yelchin), brings him classic guitars. His house – sitting on the outskirts of the city in a derelict neighborhood, is outfitted with an old television, CCTV cameras, and a system of cords and wires strewn about the place. When Eve does a little Facetime, he has to make a series of connections to get her image on his TV, while his laptop webcam captures his own. Their existence gets injected with a bit of unpredictability when Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives from L.A. While Adam and Eve are content to go for lonely nighttime drives, marveling at the now defunct Michigan Theater and its once grand beauty, now a parking garage, Ava wants to go clubbing and maybe drink a little blood.

Apparently blood is a scarce commodity for vampires what with humanity poisoning their blood the way they do their water, Adam complains. He gets his supply of O negative from a hospital doctor played by Jeffrey Wright. In Tangier, Eve goes through her old friend Christopher Marlowe (yes, that one), played by as grizzled and weary by John Hurt. What little uncontaminated blood they come across is rationed and drunk slowly. Why don’t they just attack people? “This is the 21st century, Adam declares to Ava. I guess they’ve become more civilized as a means of survival in a world of complex forensics.

Marlowe still regrets not taking credit for the work of Shakespeare and wishes he’d met Adam earlier so he could have served as a better model for Hamlet. That right there should tell you most of what you need to know about Adam and the general tone of the film. Read it how you want whether it’s vampirism as metaphor for drug addiction (Jarmusch shoots the blood-drinking sequences like drug trips strangely reminiscent of Trainspotting) or as warning for environmental destruction and loss of humanity in the world. He’s surely aware of all these subtexts in his film, but mostly he’s concerned with a certain aesthetic evidenced by Adam love for great artists of the past. His wall is dotted with portraits of famous and sometimes brooding writers and musicians. The clothing he wears is older than just about anyone on the planet. This is a world where retro and morose are not just fads but a way of life. It’s gorgeous to look at with its shadowy cinematography and cool to listen to with the soundtrack provided by Sqürl, Jarmusch’s own rock band. In a way the film itself is a retro call to Jarmusch’s early filmmaking days, when it was just a new aesthetic. Those days are long lost, just like the days when Adam and Eve could drink someone’s blood and dump the body in the Thames.

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