Only Lovers Left Alive movie review: full-blooded

Only Lovers Left Alive green light

I want to live in this movie. I want to crawl inside it and curl up in its lap and stay there forever.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It has been so hard for me to write this review! Normally, when I fall in love with a movie, I want to run right out and tell everyone about it. And, of course, I actually do want everyone to see this movie and buy the soundtrack and preorder the DVD and then go see it again so that the movie Powers That Be get the message that we want more movies like this one, as much as we can say, “This movie that isn’t like any other movie? More movies like this that aren’t like other movies, please.”

It’s only now — more than seven months after my first viewing, at last year’s London Film Festival, and more than four months after my very eagerly awaited second viewing — that I’ve figured out why I’ve been feeling this weird reluctance to talk about the film. I want to live in this movie. I want to crawl inside it and curl up in its lap and stay there forever. And because I’m so in love with vampires Adam and Eve, because I so sympathize with them, I want to protect them, just as they want — and succeed — in secluding themselves from the nasty larger world of the “zombies.” We’re the zombies, we mortal muggles, and we get almost everything absolutely wrong and we mess up the world. They have to stay hidden because we will ruin them. We’d bore them to death, if nothing else.

Only Lovers Left Alive feels like it should be kept a secret. Is there a way to keep a movie a secret and let everyone know about it at the same time? Maybe if we talk about it in whispers…

Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes) wrote this, though it’s so languid that it feels like the story just spontaneously accretes around its characters. And Jarmusch directed it, but it feels so uncoerced that it might be naturally occurring. So the romanticism of vampire mythology that has long since been almost forgotten and is recast here feels old and new at the same time. Vampirism isn’t about sex or danger here, and it’s not a metaphor for disease. There’s something aristocratic in Adam and Eve, as there was in the very first vampires in the literature of the 19th century, but it’s not of a parasitic kind. Instead, it’s a lofty idealism afforded by their immortality. They see a big picture that we zombies don’t. Well, some of us do, and if you’re one of those people who actually enjoys thinking about history and science and art and the future and what it all means, you will love Adam and Eve as much as I do.

Not to disparage other fictional vampires — by which I mean, yes, I wish to disparage them — but you’re more than a century old, and you’re spending your time going to high school over and over again? Adam (best ever Tom Hiddleston: Muppets Most Wanted, Thor: The Dark World) is at least several hundred years old, and he has spent his centuries making music and keeping up with scientific advancements. To Adam, the funeral music of the 17th century — when he references the composer William Lawes, is it just that he was a fan, or was he Lawes himself? — is the same as the rock ’n’ roll of the 1950s is the same as the mournful electric dirges he creates now: music is how he copes with eternity. Not that he’s coping all that well! What is it like to be immortal and also suicidally depressed? Meet Adam.

Eve (best ever Tilda Swinton: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I Am Love) is worried about Adam, her lover of at least a couple of hundred years, so she flies in from Tangier to his Detroit to keep him company: they’ve obviously been apart, though still in regular contact by Skype (of course), for quite a while. (Part of the wonderful mysteriousness of Only Lovers and Adam and Eve is that Jarmusch, even as he is playing with vampire tropes, doesn’t overload us with info about how his vampires live. So it’s left to us to decide whether it’s the endless day-to-day of vampiric immortality that prompted them to live on opposite sides of the planet for a while, or something else that we can’t even begin to guess at. Maybe their love doesn’t demand constant close contact.) She seems to be spending her eternity reading reading reading — I love that she packs nothing but books for her trip — and hanging out with one of the coolest immortals a reader could ever hope for as a friend, Christopher Marlowe. (More delicious mystery: immortal vampire Marlowe is played by John Hurt [Doctor Who, Immortals], who appears quite a bit older than the 29 that Marlowe was when he supposedly died. Which suggests that Marlowe faked his death, for some reason, decades before he was turned! There’s gotta be a great story there. Jarmusch, the tease, completely ignores it.)

There’s so much slyly funny stuff here, in how Adam acquires the blood he needs to consume; in the cryptic little chores he assigns to his mortal rock-dude helper, Ian (Anton Yelchin: The Smurfs 2, Star Trek Into Darkness); in Eve’s coolly philosophical approach to life, the universe, and everything; in the arrival of her bratty vampire “sister,” Ava (Mia Wasikowska: Tracks, The Double) to shake up their communion. And there’s arty punky angst galore to speak to all manner of mortal misfits. You can rage with Adam at the narrowmindedness of the world: we zombies “fear” our “own fucking imaginations,” he rants. (He’s right! The juxtaposition of the casual wild fancy of this movie next to standard Hollywood fare proves it.) You can adopt a phlegmatic long view to the horrors before your eyes, as Eve does when she notes about nearly dead Detroit, Adam’s “wilderness,” that “when the cities in the South are burning, this place will bloom.” (She’s right! Someone check and see if vampires are buying up apparently worthless real estate in Detroit.)

This is a moody fantasy love story, and it is mostly about mood. There’s barely even any of the blood and gore you’d expect from a vampire tale. And there’s way more lush succulence — emotionally and visually — for you to, well, sink your teeth into. I wouldn’t have called myself a particular fan of vampires before this, but now I see that’s probably because none of them have been as completely fascinating as Adam and Eve.

first viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

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