Only Lovers Left Alive (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

film only-lovers_75This is what Quentin Tarantino calls a “hang out movie,” and I loved hanging out in this world with these people.

 

 

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This is why you can never write off an entire subgenre. I feel like people have been sick of vampire movies for the better part of a decade, but in that time we got Let the Right One In and Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst, both of which I would consider two of the best vampire movies of all time. Even that mediocre Ethan Hawke movie, Daybreakers, had some really cool, original ideas, at least in the first half. When a genre becomes trendy, it offers the opportunity for great filmmakers to comment on it, and the results are usually pretty great. Now we have another example to join the ranks of Thirst and Let the Right One In—It’s Only Lovers Left Alive, by Jim Jarmusch—and it shows that there is still interesting material to mine in the vampire subgenre.

Jim Jarmusch tends to make two kinds of movies: small character dramas in which people just sit around and talk to each other, or small genre movies in which characters sit around and talk to each other. I don’t really have a preference (I haven’t seen all of his films, but I like all the ones that I have seen), but I’m always very intrigued to see how he plays with genre conventions. Only Lovers Left Alive is really not a horror movie, but the characters are so good, it doesn’t matter. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play Adam and Eve (Adam isn’t that Adam, but Eve might be that Eve; it’s implied that she has been around a lot longer than he has, possibly since the beginning of time). Adam is a depressed musician harboring thoughts of suicide. His mopey goth act might have gotten tiresome if he wasn’t playing off of Eve, who is a very joyous character. Even after centuries of existence, she is still in awe of the world around her, and she has an endlessly optimistic view of humanity. These two play very well off of each other and both actors are in top form—not to mention the fact that they both look like vampires anyway.

Jarmusch’s take on the vampire is really to examine what it means to be immortal. These two have lived through just about every major historical event, which gives them a great perspective on things. Eve fondly remembers plagues and floods, and Adam bemoans the way his friend Nikola Tesla was rejected by the world. They are basically a couple of aging hipsters, much like Jarmusch, and they talk about art and music and literature and debate whether or not culture’s best days are behind them. I don’t recall the word “vampire” ever being spoken in the film, but they reference humans as “zombies,” and at one point Adam refers to California as being “zombie central.” It’s a debate that seems endless, and no matter what the state of pop culture is, there are always people who argue that what we have today isn’t as good as what came before. This movie feels like Midnight in Paris in that it has an appreciation for the classics, but also ends up being surprisingly optimistic about the future. Wherever you fall on this debate, it’s refreshing to hear smart people discuss it.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t any actual vampire stuff in the movie. One interesting idea is that the vampires don’t feed on people for fear that those people could have contaminated blood, and if you drink the blood of a drug user, you might end up feeling sick, or worse. Adam gets his supply from a hospital, and always makes sure it’s pure. The whole blood drinking thing is a fairly unsubtle metaphor for drug use, and it’s an idea that’s been done before, but it’s done so well here that it feels fresh. There are lines in which they talk about getting “the good stuff,” and when they drink it they recline as if they had just shot heroin. This is all great, and I love seeing the somewhat ordinary, day-to-day life of a vampire.

I really liked Only Lovers Left Alive (by the way, I’ve complained a lot recently about bad titles, so I should point out that this one is great). I’m sure some people will tire of these conversations, but I find them endlessly enjoyable. This is what Quentin Tarantino calls a “hang out movie,” and I loved hanging out in this world with these people. It doesn’t feel as revolutionary as some of the great vampire movies, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t in the conversation in years to come. If Adam and Eve existed in the real world, this movie would be one they could point to as an example of the zombies getting it right. | Sean Lass

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