Thursday, April 17, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive
Dir. Jim Jarmusch

3 out of 5

"Zombies" - that's the derogatory term for humans used in by the vampire Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a moody rock musician living in a nearly-deserted Detroit neighborhood.  He can't stop complaining to his undead mate in Tangier, Eve (Tilda Swinton), about how the living have a limited grasp of genius, be it artistic or scientific.  Maybe if they'd lived for a dozen centuries, they would have an appropriate frame of reference.  As it is, Adam sighs, they're "still bitching" about Charles Darwin.

You wouldn't expect a powerful supernatural being to have such a defeatist attitude, but Only Lovers Left Alive confirms that the ennui of modern life is unavoidable even for bloodsucking immortals.  Beyond that, however, indie film godfather Jim Jarmusch's farcical take on vampire mythology doesn't attempt to rewrite or revolutionize the genre's conventions so much as it refracts them through the auteur's deadpan sensibility.  "Jim Jarmusch vampire movie" is not just shorthand; it's an accurate plot description.

But the film does have a plot, concerning Adam and Eve's struggle to maintain anonymity in an age where privacy is eroding quicker than the Motor City's property tax base.  Resisting their natural urge to feed on the blood of living people, they rely on networks of trusted allies and ethically malleable doctors for sustenance.  With their predatory instincts hampered, these vampires have an eternity with nothing to do but seek knowledge and beauty...but only when the sun goes down.  Adam's response to these limitations is to slip into a deep funk, one so bad that he instructs his assistant - an oblivious burnout played by Anton Yelchin with slackerish aplomb - to commission the creation of a single wooden bullet.

It doesn't take long for Eve to reunite with her partner and pull him out of the doldrums, but still, Only Lovers Left Alive is in no rush to go anywhere.  The film revels in the witty solipsism of these romantic loners who view the world as one elaborate arch joke - a viewpoint that could easily become insufferable, but Hiddleston and Swinton wear it well.  Though the former fits neatly into Jarmusch's personal arrangement of vamp archetypes, the latter hardly registers less as a monster and more as a dreadlocked earth mother with a Vitamin D deficiency.

Beyond the winking, bone-dry humor, however, there is an unmistakable sense of boredom.  There's something interesting to be extrapolated from the way that Jarmusch, himself a cultural icon, takes some of the most libertine creatures in cinema and hands them the personalities of laconic art school grad students.  The introduction of Eve's free-spirited "sister" (Mia Wasikowska) feels almost like a begrudging apology for the film's lack of tawdry business, and is easily the film's most predictable character.  Only Lovers Left Alive is best approached with the same cool, detached attitude its characters display for the world created by the "zombies" - a world not necessarily worthy of unconditional love, but rather a curious and particular appreciation.

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