23 May 2014

Review: Only Lovers Left Alive


Vampires get a bad rap as far as their depiction in pop culture goes. They are portrayed as predators endlessly stalking humans to quench their thirst. In reality, they would much rather finish that song they have spent decades working on. Feeding on humans is a Fifteenth Century problem, with sources in medicine to sell them blood, vampires focus on other pursuits such as music and literature now.

Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) have loved each other longer than most nations have existed. Now they reside in separate cities; she in Tangier and he in Detroit. He lingers on the outskirts of a once great city serving as a reclusive genius to the musically-inclined and she pouring over great works of literature. Adam finds being a recluse in the 21st Century more troublesome than it was long ago. In the past he and fellow vampire, Christopher Marlowe (yes, that Christopher Marlowe), would pass the great works of music and literature on to Schubert and Shakespeare.

There is no existential crisis that keeps a vampire awake at night wondering about their place in history. Permanence in the place of history isn't a big deal when you live forever. A human lifetime is just a blip on the eternal time span in the course of history, but the consequences of our actions last much longer. Adam instead wonders if he may just outlive society as a whole. Getting around is more difficult than it used to be. "Zombies" – what they call humans – are trashing the water, their own blood, not to mention culture. His "suicidally romantic" habits concern Eve, so she makes the trek from Tangier to Detroit to reinvigorate her husband.

Jim Jarmusch deconstructs the recent batch of popular vampire films much like Dead Man did with Westerns. No Bella/Edward hanky-panky, no Bela Lugosi mugging. This isn't a horror film, or some thriller that leaves audiences digging into their armrests with nails clenched. More like the chronicles of a culture with an ironic detachment from the rest of the world. They could be considered hipsters, but their dress is out of comfort and necessity. Even their method of obtaining precious blood is mundane; they purchase it through a series of connections.

So without the morbid lure of sinking teeth into young flesh, what is the catch for this particular vampire movie? What draws in viewers to Jarmusch's tale is the magnetic draw between Hiddleston and Swinton. This is their story made up of their passions and the love that always brings them back together. In a way it could be considered the Before Sunrise of vampire flicks. Plot isn't really the focus here, conversations carry the film from scene to scene and that is enough. The bond shared by Adam's lonely rocker and Eve's gentle soul is a great reflection of just how few real couples there are captured on film.

Only Lovers Left Alive is sensuously crafted in all regards to how the picture is rendered. From the authentic relationship brought to life by two stellar leads, to the effortlessly cool capturing of the ecstasy of their shared likes. Sounds and sights blend into a visceral high that is well worth drifting into for a few hours. Don't be fooled though, a playfully dark sense of humor runs throughout as well. It just wouldn't be a Jim Jarmusch film if it didn't.