Only Lovers Left Alive – A Stroll Down Eternal Lovers’ Lane

By Maryann Henck

only_lovers_left_alive_posterAfter a three-year respite, icon­ic inde­pen­dent film­mak­er Jim Jar­musch is back with a qui­et­ly intrigu­ing new film: Only Lovers Left Alive – a tale of two lovers and of two cities. Although lovers Adam and Eve (Tom Hid­dle­ston and Til­da Swin­ton) – not the bib­li­cal cou­ple but nev­er­the­less, a cou­ple in the bib­li­cal sense – live in cities con­ti­nents apart, they have been togeth­er for­ev­er. Lit­er­al­ly for­ev­er since both of them hap­pen to be vampires.

Yet, they’re not the type of vam­pires you might be expect­ing for they have lit­tle in com­mon with either the shape-shift­ing, black-caped Drac­u­la types or the momen­tar­i­ly in vogue vam­pires from the likes of Twi­light, The Vam­pire Diaries, and True Blood. This is, after all, the quirky cin­e­mat­ic world accord­ing to Jar­musch who is known for his refusal to cater to any one spe­cif­ic audi­ence. His pri­ma­ry objec­tive is to make films that “tell sto­ries, but some­how in a new way, not in a pre­dictable form, not in the usu­al manip­u­la­tive way.”

Con­se­quent­ly, the unex­pect­ed is to be expect­ed. So per­haps it would be most fit­ting to con­tin­ue with a tiny spoil­er alert: Only Lovers Left Alive is not a ‘real’ vam­pire movie or a hor­ror sto­ry for that mat­ter; it’s tru­ly a love sto­ry, but not of the sweet and sap­py per­sua­sion: this one has teeth. As phys­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al eter­nal wan­der­ers of this world, Jarmusch’s vam­pires can freely rem­i­nisce about the past, live in the present, and pon­der the future. Of course, there’s a catch: Eter­ni­ty can be both a curse and a bless­ing – espe­cial­ly when that sense of wan­der­lust begins to fade and weltschmerz sets in.

The open­ing scene zeros in on Adam – a reclu­sive, melan­choly musi­cian who lives amidst a chaot­ic array of vin­tage musi­cal instru­ments and old-school record­ing equip­ment in a dilap­i­dat­ed, Goth­ic tow­er on the out­skirts of Detroit. The place once known as the Motor City has been rel­e­gat­ed to a ghost town: dark, drea­ry, and dead with the excep­tion of a still thriv­ing music scene. Adam’s only real con­tact to humans is Ian (Anton Yelchin), a “rock-and-roll kid” and trust­ed deal­er for all things musi­cal. But this time around, Adam has a non-musi­cal request for Ian: He needs a wood­en bul­let to put an end to his increas­ing­ly depress­ing exis­tence. Back in the gold­en days, he played chess with Byron and gave an ada­gio to Schu­bert. These days, there’s noth­ing left for him to do except watch the ‘zom­bies’ – his pet name for humans – destroy them­selves and the plan­et. In Adam’s view, noth­ing is sacred to or safe from those brain­less crea­tures: water, blood, and love – the very essences of life have been ren­dered impure.

Mean­while on anoth­er con­ti­nent, Eve haunts the gold­en-lit alley­ways of Tang­i­er as she sets out to vis­it her good friend, play­wright Christo­pher Mar­lowe (John Hurt), who also hap­pens to be her deal­er for “the good stuff” – uncon­t­a­m­i­nat­ed blood in a bag, prefer­ably type O neg­a­tive. In this world, pure blood has become as rare a com­mod­i­ty as pure love.

Adam and Eve no longer engage in the tra­di­tion­al neck-bit­ing approach to quench­ing their thirst for blood; this is, after all, the 21st cen­tu­ry, and they are vam­pires of a more gen­teel nature. While Adam broods over his musi­cal com­po­si­tions and con­tem­plates sui­cide in far-off Detroit, lit­er­a­ture addict Eve gorges on books in every imag­in­able lan­guage and indulges in her unwa­ver­ing lust for life. Although these lovers live at oppo­site ends of the globe, they seem to be tele­path­i­cal­ly aware of each other’s feel­ings – so aware, in fact, that Eve sens­es Adam’s sui­ci­dal inten­tions. Entan­gle­ment – Einstein’s spooky action at a dis­tance – is at work. After book­ing a series of night flights and final­ly decid­ing which books to pack, Eve heads off to reunite with Adam, hop­ing to reignite his sense of enchant­ment about the world as well as whet his appetite for eter­nal life again.

Adam and Eve’s bliss­ful reunion in Detroit leads to end­less lazy nights filled with deli­cious delights: danc­ing, love­mak­ing, play­ing chess, and enjoy­ing treats like frozen “blood on a stick.” All is qui­et on the Detroit front until immi­nent evil enters the scene in the form of Eve’s brat­ty baby sis­ter, Ava (Mia Wasikows­ka), who, accord­ing to Adam, obvi­ous­ly smelled “the good stuff” all the way from the “zom­bie cen­tral,” L.A. Instead of being a good vam­pire girl who stays put in her cof­fin, par­ty-vamp Ava lets out her inner wild child as she pro­ceeds to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly wreak hav­oc on the lovers’ peace­ful existence.

Only Lovers Left Alive will cap­ti­vate audi­ences with its charm­ing­ly hip vam­pire cou­ple as well as its atmos­pher­ic inter­play of dark and light in noc­tur­nal­ly roman­tic Detroit and Tang­i­er, set to an eclec­tic sound­track cour­tesy of Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL, Jozef van Wis­sem, White Hills, and Yas­mine Ham­dan. Des­tined to become a mid­night movie clas­sic, this cin­e­mat­ic gem invites you to take an unfor­get­table stroll down eter­nal lovers’ lane.

Carpe noctem!

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