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Only Lovers Left Alive

Entry updated 9 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2013). Recorded Picture Company,/Pandora Filmproduktion,/Snow Wolf Produktion. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Written by Jim Jarmusch. Cast includes Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and Mia Wasikowska. 123 minutes. Colour.

The protagonists' names, Adam and Eve, augur ill. Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) are Vampire lovers who have enjoyed a sophisticated but intermittent intimacy for centuries Immortality, and are now having to face the Dystopian world of the twenty-first century. Adam has holed up in the decaying City-scape of Detroit, Michigan, where he creates retro music with retro equipment based on some of the Inventions of Nikola Tesla which he retains in a secret Underground laboratory; and refers to the increasingly degenerated human race as Zombies. But he remains popular with his unknowing fans. Eve for her part has gone to ground in Tangier, where she buys her blood food from fellow vampire Christopher Marlowe (Hurt), who later claims – a ludicrous moment risibly conveyed by Jarmusch with a straight face – to have written the works of William Shakespeare. Worried about Adam's increasingly suicidal anomie, she reunites with him in Detroit. Their relationship remains movingly affectionate (viewer sympathy may be retained through their initial refusal to use anything but black-market blood); but Eve's amoral sister Ava (Wasikowska) arrives, vampirizes a human colleague of Adam's, and forces Adam and Eve to decamp to Tangier, where Marlowe is dying from a bad batch of blood. They are now beginning to starve, and roused by a Lebanese singer (the real Yasmine Hamdan) in a nightclub, Adam and Eve approach a young human couple with their fangs exposed.

There is some moderately deft swooning in soft focus, mostly down to Eve, and some unarousing music, ostensibly by Adam, who embarrassingly claims to have written one of Franz Schubert's string quartets when the guy was stuck; but these moments of pleasaunce are framed by desolating visions of depopulated Detroit and swarmed-over Tangier. Jarmusch's acidly pessimistic take on Homo sapiens in general comes close to saving Only Lovers Left Alive from some boneheaded moments of vampirenlust, partially saving the film from the ineptness inherent in granting to ennui-stricken immortal parasites any sanction whatsoever to comment on the human condition. Jarmusch's Shakespearean Maggot [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] is presented with sufficient humourlessness to seem, sadly, genuine, further stretching the viewer's patience with his fanboy kowtowing to the pleasures and miseries of vampires. But Hiddleston and Tilden display, despite their roles, a winning aplomb, and seem at points to rouse each other attractively, as our primal parents should. They help bring the film to the verge of genuine goodness. [JC]


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