ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
*** (out of 5)
May 9, 2014
Tilda Swinton as EVE
Tom Hiddleston as ADAM
Anton Yelchin as IAN
Mia Wasikowska as AVA
John Hurt as MARLOWE
Jeffrey Wright as DR. WATSON
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
BY KEVIN CARR
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In the past twenty years or so, vampire movies have become more diversified and more challenging at the same time. There used to be a time when the narrow focus of the vampire as an archetype was limited to various versions of Count Dracula. Admittedly, that’s a pretty cool archetype, but it did get tired after 50 years of filmmaking.
Then came along Anne Rice, who redefined the vampire genre in the 70s in literature. However, her archetypal vampire in the form of Lestat didn’t revolutionize the movie version of the creatures until the 90s when the film version came out. After this, it was nothing but brooding, mopey vampires. Then there was that whole “Twilight” thing that came about in 2008, and all went to hell for a while.
Over the past several years, several independent versions of vampires have tried to cut through the “Twilight” noise, and they’ve had a modicum of success. Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” feels like one of those movies, similar to something like “Midnight Son.”
The story follows a vampire couple Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) who live most of their lives on other sides of the world. Adam is a brooding musician living in seclusion. Eve is a woman of the world, enjoying herself in the Middle East. Facing a world in which the human population has tainted their blood so much that it makes feeding dangerous, clean blood is rare and a scarce delicacy.
As they do occasionally, they meet up in America to rekindle their relationship and intake fresh blood like a drug. However, Eve’s out-of-control sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) stops by for an unexpected visit and threatens to destroy Adam’s hermit-like lifestyle.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” is more in line with Anne Rice’s emotionally morose vampires than the current angst-filled teen drama vampires we see in “Twilight” or “Vampire Diaries.” In fact, there’s a lot of similarities between Adam and Rice’s Lestat. Both are musicians. Both find an erotic high in drinking blood. Both are dark and brooding.
Once you get past the heavy nature of the vampires in this movie, it’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Jim Jarmusch having a go at a vampire film. As a maverick director who has sampled plenty of genres over his career (including the western with “Dead Man” and the samurai film with “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”), Jarmusch is having some fun with the genre.
He compartmentalizes the humor to scenes with Adam buying clean donated blood from the somewhat obviously named Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), and the supporting yet well-constructed character of Ian (Anton Yelchin) as Adam’s conduit to the rest of the world is one of the most interesting elements of the film.
Of course, this isn’t really a vampire movie. It’s Jarmusch’s way of shaking his finger at the human race for screwing things up. The movie is wrapped in symbolism and metaphor, sometimes as subtle as Dr. Watson’s references to Faust and Dr. Caligari. Still, it makes for an interesting puzzle to decode.
Beyond the subtext, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is an interesting alternative to the modern vampire romance. It’s a slow and deliberate film that spends time getting to know the characters. While it’s not quite a horror movie, Jarmusch has some fun playing in horror’s back yard.