ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Screenwriter: Jim Jarmusch from an adaptation of the French version by Marion Bessay
Runtime: 123 mins.
Australian release date: 17 April 2014
Jim Jarmusch’s new vampire flick, Only Lovers Left Alive, is so hip it hurts yet it’s strangely bloodless (pun intended). Set in current-day Detroit and Tangiers, it is a love story between the dark, brooding Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and the luminous, ethereal Eve (Tilda Swinton). They have been connected for centuries and Jarmusch sees them as, “…metaphors for the present state of human life - they are fragile and endangered, susceptible to natural forces, and to the short-sighted behaviour of those in power.” A sobering thought, indeed, for there go all of us!
Adam is a rock musician (and a very good one) who likes to keep his talent under wraps and doesn’t want his work to become over-exposed. He lives in a rambling, retro mansion in an equally down-trodden Detroit, surrounded by vintage guitars, old amps and recording equipment, which he has restored. Along with his musical skills, he’s a technological genius, which allows him to live ‘off the grid.’ He has a runner called Ian (Anton Yelchin) who is able to procure anything he wants so Adam doesn’t have to venture out into the world of the “zombies.” Eve, on the other hand, lives in Tangiers, also in a time-warp that harks back to the halcyon days of the hippy era when it was ‘as cool as’ to live there. Extremely intelligent and sophisticated, she can speed-read books in all languages and maintains a close friendship with the English poet and playwright, Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe (John Hurt), who is alive and well and taking credit for all of the works ascribed to William Shakespeare. At last, the controversy is solved!
The characters are kept alive by supplies of human blood, which must be pure and uncontaminated, obtained from blood-banks and corrupt doctors to prevent them from having to bite their victims’ necks. That’s so yesterday! Adam is moody and introspective, permanently disillusioned by the state of the world and humankind’s lack of imagination. When his depression mounts, worried Eve decides to visit him in Detroit, a trip that requires careful planning as it must all be undertaken at night. Once there, they go on mini jaunts around the city so Adam can show Eve the sights, which include Jack White’s family home and the old Motown Studios, where Eve declares, “I’m more of a Stax girl!” Their idyll is disrupted, however, when her vexatious ‘sister’ Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up on their doorstep, for Ava is trouble. Young and impetuous, she drags them out for a night on the town which turns into a disaster that forces them all to get out of town.
This is a film that will be embraced by many, but may be dismissed by those who miss the literary, philosophical and musical allusions to the ‘60s and ‘70s. Watch closely as Yorick Le Saux’s camera lovingly envelops the sets of production designer Marco Bittner Rosser - it’s fun to recognise the odd book title and album cover. Bina Daigeler’s detailed costumes and the delightful and surprising soundtrack both reference the period too. It all harks back to a time when people were out to change the world for the better, not abuse and plunder it, as often seems to be the case now. The casting is simply perfect: Hiddleston’s Adam and Swinton’s Eve are impossibly cool, and Ava is so, well, whatever! Wasikowska just gets better and better.
If you look back at Jarmusch’s work, it is apparent he is becoming more disillusioned as he gets older. Only Lovers Left Alive sends a strong message: he, like Adam, is angry at the short-sighted approach our political masters take to the world we live in, a world in which we are dominated by a mentality that ignores the worth of long-lasting relationships and friendships, the sharing and passing on of information, and the lack of willingness to utilise some of mankind’s most innovative discoveries. A mind-set that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. He appears to be saying that they are sucking the blood out of our mother earth. A sobering thought indeed…