REVIEW: Only Lovers Left Alive

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Vampiric romance raises the dead (★★★★, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch)


Remember when vampires were cool?

When David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve donned Katherine Hamnett suits and sunglasses to stalk the cavernous rock clubs of New York for their human prey in The Hunger.

Or when Keifer Sutherland lead his gang of surly teens in terrorising the night-time beaches of California in The Lost Boys.

This was back in the 80s, before Stephenie Meyers (Twilight) sank her teeth into the ‘‘death that walks’’ and drained it of all credibility.

Writer-director Jim Jarmusch remembers those gore-guzzling 80s vamps well.

He takes us back to those halcyon, pre Twilight days, in Only Lovers Left Alive.

Living in a dilapidated mansion, surrounded by the coyote infested wastelands of Detroit, musician/undead lord of darkness Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is suffering an existential crisis.

Beset by ‘‘zombies’’ – stupid humans who idolise his music yet stumble through their lives devoid of real imagination – and his own Byronic self obsession, Adam plans his own death – no mean task when you’re an immortal, blood drinking Vampire.

Meanwhile in Tangiers, Adam’s wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) is enjoying her unlife with a gusto, surrounded by books and friends – including fellow vampire Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt).

When she calls Adam to check in, however, Eve realises he’s only yet another downward spiral and goes to him.

Reunited, Adam’s crisis is averted and the pair are content to enjoy each other.

They take night tours of abandoned Detroit in Adam’s serpentine sports car, enjoy refreshing bloodsicles, talk philosophy and dance to 60s psychedelia and early 50s rock’n’ roll.

It’s all lovely and soul healing, until Eve’s bratty, greedy sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) descends, a ragged stake in the heart of their settled, urbane lives.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a gorgeous, romantic, witty film that plays with ideas of humanity and culture in fascinating ways.

Long scenes of Eve strolling through the grubby Tangiers back streets to fetch some cruelty-free ‘‘good stuff’’, or Adam’s louche rants about everything that’s wrong with modern life, could seem a tad self indulgent and pretentious in less skilled hands.

But this kind of sly, plot-free storytelling is Jarmusch’s wheel house – see Mystery Train and Coffee and Cigarettes.

In Hiddleston and Swinton, he’s got the perfect tools to do it, too.

Their swagger, nobility and emotional largesse are just so damned enticing. But what makes Adam and Eve really delicious, ironically, is their humanity.

Eve delights in everything she sees, naming plants, animals and the ages of precious things by touch, adoring life and Adam while suffering none of either’s bullshit.

Meanwhile Adam hero-worships humanity’s great artists and thinkers – Newton, Poe, Tesla, fellow vamp Marlowe – even as he decries the modern cultural wasteland, cleaving to his music and his Eve with abandon.

But Jarmusch’s modern monsters are more than just a metaphor for our apathy. They’re hilarious, too.

When Ava complains she has a stomach ache from over-indulging in human blood, Eve chastises her.
‘‘Well, what do you expect?’’ Eve asks pointing at Ava’s victim. ‘‘He’s in the music industry!’’

When the pair hear a woman singing in a bar, Eve is sure she’ll be very famous.

‘‘Christ, I hope not,’’ replies Adam, desperately. ‘‘She’s too good for that.’’

It all makes for a dense, alluring fantasy world, just slightly askew of our mundane one, that demands further investigation, and a pair of characters so charming it’s impossible to deny them.

As Jarmusch’s hypnotic snare springes, it’s no hardship to offer these undead creatures a vein to get them through the night. On the contrary, it’s an honour.

How many modern-day vamps can claim that?

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