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ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (review)

By Todd Sokolove
Produced by Jeremy Thomas, Reinhard Brundig

Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton,  
Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin

Jim Jarmusch might be the only director left alive that could make vampires cool again, and in his latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, he resurrects and recreates their mythos with giddy delight.

The story revolves around a married undead couple known as Adam and Eve.  In fact the film brilliantly establishes a world that, quite literally, revolves around them.

Eve, inspired by the universe’s endless beauty watches the stars turn to a circular blur, while Adam, inspired by music, is represented by a classic Rock 45.

You couldn’t come up with a better opening to this poetic, beautiful, lonely, ironic and often comical achievement.

Like any of Jarmusch’s films, it’s a work unclassifiable by genre, featuring characters and situations that defy previous depictions on camera.  It is a vampire film without the horror, and a zombie film with true impending apocalypse by man’s inevitable doing.

In another brilliantly cast role completely devoured by Tilda Swinton, Eve is the wiser, more romantic of the two.  She’s several thousand years older than Adam, but also older in appearance, having been “turned” most likely in her late 40s.  She has also evolved into a higher realm of consciousness, able identify an items origin in time and space simply by touch.

Since opposites attract, Adam (Tom Hiddleston in a mesmerizingly hip performance) is the true Goth–brooding and suicidal (wooden bullet ready to launch).  He’s clearly been inspired by rock stars long before there was rock music, adorning his reclusive Detroit mansion with portraits of scientists, leaders and poets of past centuries.  He is bored by everything, and quickly losing inspiration from anything.

Although they are completely in love with one another, the film finds them during a long-distance relationship in both location and maturity.  It’s no mistake that Eve resides in the romantically old-world Tangier, and Adam in the desolate ghost town of today’s Detroit.  They can’t live apart for long (relatively speaking, of course), and the FaceTime chats are becoming a poor substitute for companionship.

Interestingly, Jarmusch uses the psychological and emotional effects of immortality as his “garlic.” Vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive are more fragile than their lore in literature.  Since they are, technically, part human, they have weaknesses both external and internal.  A wooden bullet will kill if shot to the heart, but too long a stretch of time without feeding on blood is just as fatal.

The modern world has put these vampires more at risk as well.  Contaminated blood supplies, global warming, and worst of all, 21st century forensics that makes dumping a drained body virtually impossible to get away with.

But this isn’t a film devoid of humor.  It’s packed with a lot of the keen irony Jarmusch is known for.  He’s written the vampires themselves as having a sense of humor, often peppering the dialogue with stories from major world events they’ve lived through as pun over plot.

Rounding out the vampire cast is John Hurt’s performance as the couple’s good friend Christopher Marlowe.

Yes, that Christopher Marlowe.  It turns out secretly penning the worlds of Shakespeare was only one of the best tricks played upon the public by the man.  The vampire poet represents the fragility of a vampire turned in his later years.

Turned in her younger, and clearly less mature years is Eve’s younger “sister” Ava, played by a hysterical Mia Wasikowska.  We get the impression she is younger in actual age than Eve and Adam, but still centuries old.  Her antics, both past and in the present film, indicate Jarmusch’s theory of vampire relativity.

There are other surprises, many of them pop-culture, that Jarmusch has loaded the film with.

It turns out these vampires are hoarders, Eve collecting and rereading books and Adam collecting rare guitars.  They literally surround themselves with stuff that gives them happiness, knowing at any moment they may be forced to leave behind material possessions.  You can’t get more human than that.

I’ve always been a fan of Tony Scott’s early 80s romantic vampire film The Hunger, but with the caveat that it’s style over substance.  Only Lovers Left Alive is a triumphant one-up of Scott’s movie because it has both style and substance.

Bauhaus may have declared “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” but Jarmusch has slayed the sparkling vampires that have occupied our bookstores and movie houses for too long.

Vampires are, finally, cool again.

Only Lovers Left Alive is currently playing in limited release in New York and Los Angeles.  It was this past weekend’s highest grossing new movie, with a per screen average higher than Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Oculus and Rio 2.

It is expanding to cities nationwide over the next couple months.  Click HERE for locations and dates.

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