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October 8th, 2014


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08:11 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Only Lovers Left Alive
Imagine that you're a vampire. Barring murder or starvation, you can probably never die. How do you pass your time?

The traditional vampire story makes you a Force to Be Reckoned With; either a powerful and violent tyrant, or an elite member of a secret society that quietly rules the world.

This kind of vampire makes for good fiction, but I don't think it's terribly realistic. Normal humans are usually depicted as cattle in vampire stories, and like cattle we are numerous, but we're also intelligent and emotional and I'm pretty sure that the classic, tyrannical vampire wouldn't stand a chance once exposed. So what do you do? I suppose that you just exist, laying low for a long, long time. You'd probably become manic depressive, vacillating between the deepest extremes of ennui and rapture.

The vampires in Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive take the more realistic path. Eve (Tilda Swinton) is living in Tangier with Christopher Marlow (John Hurt) who did not die in 1593, but has been whiling away the years in obscurity. Eve finds herself missing her lover, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), so she takes a trip to Detroit to see what he's up to. Doesn't matter how many centuries this relationship has spanned--they're still crazy about each other.

And the two of them subsist. Adam is a scientist and a musician, and he's leaked brilliant ideas to the most brilliant men (Marlowe, too, mentions in passing that he is responsible for most of Shakespeare's oeuvre). He's tortured and depressed and working up to suicide, which is why Eve has come to see him. They spend their nights taking long drives and playing chess. Eve experiments by making blood Popsicles.

What they don't do is feed on the living. Too dangerous. It is, as Adam points out, the 21st century after all, and you can't simply dump a corpse in the Thames anymore. Instead, Adam has a clandestine arrangement with an employee of the local blood bank, and Eve gets hers from a guy in France. Finding a good supply is difficult; zombies (their derogatory term for normal humans) are foolish enough to poison their own blood. They never elaborate on the "poison", but they must be referring to the soup of diseases and pesticides and dissolved Teflon that courses through our veins.

Adam employs the assistance of a fawning rock music fan named Ian who is willing to perform odd jobs (sometimes very odd). We get the feeling that Adam is leaking some of Adam's music to the public, much to Adam's annoyance. Eve's sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up unexpected. Ava is a disreputable, centuries-old teenager who desperately needs to grow up, and she likes Ian, who is clueless about his employer's secret. Adam and Eve recognize that this is a problem.

There are a couple of twists in the plot, but I've more or less described it. Only Lovers Left Alive unspools at a languid pace without ever really being about anything. I watched it with a group, and I'm almost positive that I'm the only one who loved it; I think everyone else found it pretty boring--not unwatchable, just slow and uneventful.

But it's also a very beautiful film, gorgeously (sometimes (rarely) conspicuously) composed, and the casting is wonderful. It's wry and sad and quiet and clever and watching it, one begins to appreciate the malaise of Adam and Eve's immortality, and the idea that after long enough, the drive that powers their survival is not noble or heroic, but just the suspicion that existence is preferable to oblivion.

Only Lovers Left Alive is really not a horror film, but it strikes me as the perfect vampire movie. It's not a popular opinion, apparently, but it is mine.

Here's the trailer.

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31 Days of Halloween: Only Lovers Left Alive - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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