For Halloween: Only Lovers Left Alive

Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Sony Classics, 128 minutes, R (brief nudity, language)
* * * * *

I’m pretty bored with the overdone vampire genre, but I give a hearty thumbs-up to the stylish treatment given by director Jim Jarmusch. There aren’t too many people who can do laconic ennui tinged with surrealism as well as Jarmusch. Want a film for Halloween season viewing? You won't find a better one than Only Lovers Left Alive, a film that disintegrated at the American box office like Dracula exposed to sunlight. Idiots! This German/British production is chilling, touching, and visually stunning.

It centers on two vampires who have been lovers for many centuries. How many? Well, their names are Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), and that’s Jarmusch’s first little inside joke. If you recall, Eve ushered in Paradise Lost when she took up the serpent’s offer to eat from the Tree of Wisdom. In some translations, that arboreal temptation is the Tree of Eternal Life. In essence, Adam and Eve found a way around God by becoming immortal vampires.

After all these millennia, Adam is so bored he’s suicidal. He and Eve have lived apart for many years, but she decides to travel from Tangiers, where she lives surrounded by books, to rescue Adam, who resides in a post-economic apocalypse neighborhood in Detroit, surrounded by vintage guitars. (All traveling is confined to night flights, naturally.) Where better to be a vampire than in the deadest of dead cities? Adam is fed up with everything, including moronic people he calls “zombies.” Call it the second joke--if there’s anything more overdone than vampires, it’s zombies! Adam has, for years, passed himself off as a moody musician, first as a punk rocker then as a reclusive avant garde art rocker, hence all those guitars. Nobody quite understands his music, which means to the walking zombies it must be brilliant. Eve gets him, though. Both are classy, highly sexed, discerning vampires that require Type O negative blood to avoid getting sick on their sustenance. Detroit is a great place to find it, a place scarier than any vampire could ever be. Adam simply buys his blood from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), who needs the cash more than he needs to know why his mysterious client, Dr. Faust, wants it. Call their names more inner jokes.

Eve and Adam adore each other and almost have a good thing going until Eve’s younger vamp sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska) drops in from Los Angeles and ruins a good thing.  Her LA demeanor is as trashy as Eve is classy; like LA, excess trumps restraint. She messes things up so badly that Adam and Eve must hightail it back to Morocco—at night, of course—to score some “pure” blood from Kit Marlowe (John Hurt). Another twist—he’s Christopher Marlowe, the real Shakespeare, who faked his death in 1593. Let’s just say not all goes according to plan. The film’s ending is both terrifying and beautiful.

This film is drenched in atmosphere—all of it tone perfect. There is a heart-wrenching scene involving a café singer (Lebanese star Yasmine Hamdan) that is positively otherworldly. The soundtrack, including music from Jarmusch’s own band, SQURL, rightly won an award at Cannes in 2013 and the film itself was nominated for a Palme d’Or.

You will walk away filled with doubt as to whether being undead might be preferable to being (semi) alive in Detroit and, of course, you will muse upon the question of whether transience is preferable to immortality. Hiddleston and Swinton have amazing chemistry together and, as usual, it’s almost impossible not to stare at Swinton when she’s on camera—her pallid complexion and icy demeanor jumping off the screen as all you’d imagine a vampire queen to be.  Only Lovers Left Alive is a small masterpiece whether you view it for Halloween or Arbor Day.
Rob Weir

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