Thursday, April 17, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

     How about a vampire movie with no biting, no sex, and no thrill-a-minute action sequences, but where the millennial-old vampire lovers sleep a lot, don’t comb their hair, but really really love each other?  Sound like a hot date movie?

Wait, there’s more. Well, kind of more. Yeah, these vampires sleep a lot during the movie, but it’s Tilda Swinton, whose natural vampiric good looks require little enhancement, and Tom Hiddleston, both sleeping naked atop a chaste coverlet. Your heart rate might go up just listening to their light snores, but only if you’re a Jarmusch hipster and so totally cool that you feel his aesthetic. If so, Only Lovers Left Alive is the vampire love story for you.

A testimony to Adam and Eve’s eternal love is that although they live apart–he, in the abandoned and economically desolate suburbs of Detroit; she, in a surprisingly clean Tangiers–they keep in touch via Skype. “I want to see you,” Adam says to Eve. She presses the video display on her iPhone. Yes, Eve has the Apple. Adam does it his way. He’s using a gigundo dinosaur of a cell phone with a pull out antennae, then connects a few wires and aims an equally ancient remote at a TV console similar to the one my grandma owned. Eve’s face appears. He looks momentarily happy; this soon passes. He’s embraced technology, but not the latest thing. He’s stuck in a vinyl world of classic 45s and bemoans the loss of the Packard plant.

The tree of bummed out vampires is vast and includes Louis in Interview with the Vampire, Angel in Buffy and even Bill Compton in True Blood, but they were known to glory in the occasional bite or have sex with the woman they loved. Adam puts the bleak dollop of mope on brooding. If he had a lawn, he’d be screaming at the kids to get the hell off it.

          Only black market blood is good enough for Jarmusch’s vamps, and not because they’ve morally put aside their predatory ways. “It’s how they treat their world,” Adam says, explaining his disillusionment with humans and their self-destructive lifestyles. He calls the humans zombies.

“Who you calling a zombie, bro?” I longed to hear those words from some soulless musician in the nightclub Adam and Eve deigned to visit.

I’m sure Adam and Eve sucked blood from the occasional syphilitic or plague ridden human in the past, but in Jarmuschland, vampires no longer tolerate diseased blood. Or, is it that like many humans who prefer bottled to tap water, these vampires are the ultimate consumers? They like their human blood bottled or packaged and with advance hype. In Eve’s words, “The good stuff.”

Adam and Eve are mismatched lovers, proving that opposites attract.
She’s more books, art and using the latest technology, he’s more music and scientifically inventive. She maintains contact with others, he prefers cruising Detroit’s abandoned manufacturing hub, its decaying buildings etched in moonlight like Roman ruins. She’s intent on surviving into the next millennia, he’s stuck in the past and contemplates suicide with a wooden bullet. There is an upside to all of this: the music is very good and my favorite scenes involved those nighttime cruises through Detroit.

Only Lovers Left Alive is not a story so much as a whimsy, and a conceited one at that. Their snobbery is dangerous. It leads to estrangement from all that they value. Creativity and destructiveness are part of humanity, their life source. If they lose that connection, what good is their art?

An acute appreciation of irony is at the core of their aesthetic, as it must be with all intellectual snobs. In the end, they must return to their primitive state and prey on young lovers in order to live. “What choice do we have,” Eve says.

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Yorick Le Saux; edited by Affonso Goncalves; music by Jozef Van Wissem; production design by Marco Bittner Rosser; costumes by Bina Daigeler; produced by Jeremy Thomas and Reinhard Brundig; released by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes.
WITH: Tom Hiddleston (Adam), Tilda Swinton (Eve), Mia Wasikowska (Ava), John Hurt (Marlowe), Anton Yelchin (Ian) and Jeffrey Wright (Dr. Watson).
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