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Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

It didn't occur to me until after seeing a trailer for Only Lovers Left Alive that years later I, along with the rest of the world, am still reeling from the cultural damage left behind by the Twilight series. The movies had so effectively neutered the erotic and dark appeal of the vampire genre, it would take a thousand proverbial hot showers to rinse away the greasy film they'd left behind. But what would it really take? To hear of a vampire love story without a blasé roll of the eyes, a cynical shake of the head?

You know where I'm going with this. Enter, stage left, Tilda Swinton. Tom Hiddleston. Jim Jarmusch. Did I mention Tilda Swinton? 

This is what it takes. 

Only Lovers Left Alive is a movie punctuated by style and mood, feeling all the while as much of a trancey, hip music video as a fictional story. The plot is there, though it's never really the point: Adam and Eve are lovers (and yes, vampires) who've been together for centuries and are presently living apart. Adam lives the reclusive life of an indie musician in run-down Detroit, while Eve explores the exotic nightlife in Tangier. When Eve senses Adam's depression overwhelming him, she comes to stay with him and is paid an unexpected and unwelcome visit from her immature younger sister. Trouble ensues.

At it's core, this movie is at its best when showing us the small moments between Adam and Eve, whose enduring relationship has its roots in admiration and respect (rather than, say, teenage lust or immature obsession). Because after all, these vampires have lived for hundreds of years, and they are wise and self-aware. They are grown-ups. Their separate living situations are never presented as the result of a rift or an indication of a problem: it's more a practical effect of living forever. Without the pending threat of mortality, the couple spending a year or two apart may seem no more unusual than a married couple being apart for a week or two. 

The devil is in the detail with this film. Swinton's character, for example slinks around in light, earthy clothing that matches her pale skin and alabaster, long locks of hair. Hiddleston dons Loki-like, long black hair and black clothes. Their clothes, hair, and lifestyles are mirrors for their personalities: Adam is a sensitive, brooding artist who finds himself depressed about the state of the world and its decay, unable to look away from the "zombies" who consume the Earth's energy and ravage its resources. While Eve is able to find beauty and pleasure in her surroundings, whether it's from a book, a song, or the presence of an unexpected mushroom growing in the garden. Eve looks at life through a lighter filter, and she sees the long game, as demonstrated by the way she casually puts Adam into checkmate while they play a quiet game of chess. They represent two dichotomies that can still fully appreciate one another.

At it's heart, though, this is a Jim Jarmusch movie, and it requires patience - it creeps along at a slow pace, languishing so much in the details that the audience might feel a little tired or stuck. If you aren't completely in love with the central characters, the entire film is in danger of feeling slow and potentially condescending. 

It's difficult to imagine Only Lovers Left Alive pulling off any level of success without Swinton and Hiddleston in the leads - particularly Swinton, for whom this role was literally designed. Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt and Anton Yelchin all take on supporting roles, adding levity and substance in their brief appearances.  

This isn't a fast-paced film and it isn't for everyone, but for it's mesmerizing qualities, incredible leads, and the way it stays with you, I give it a B+.


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