Thursday, May 29, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive Review: The Romantic Entanglement of Vampiric Hipsters

By Ben Macdonald

Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleson, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffery Wright
Release Date: April 25, 2014 (limited)

Only Lovers Left Alive begins with a series of rotating overhead shots cutting back and forth between its protagonists, Adam (Hiddleson) and Eve (Swinton). The characters are on opposite sides of the world (one lives in Detroit, the other in Tangier) but the shot links the two together. The significance of these shots is revealed near the end of the film, when Adam explains to Eve the phenomenon in physics known as entanglement. Entanglement, which Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”, means that if an entwined particle is separated, even to opposite ends of the universe, and you spin one of them, then the other one will also immediately start spinning. This also explains the characters’ names, as the biblical Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs, suggesting a similar state of entanglement. Despite their distance at the film’s beginning, the two characters have been married for centuries and are said to be unable to live without each other. Eve eventually rejoins Adam in Detroit where their blood, sex and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle goes uninterrupted until Eve’s sister Ava shows up.
As is to be expected with a Jarmush picture, Only Lovers is not particularly story-driven and resists generic convention. Though it is a vampire movie, it’s less interested in the taste of blood and more interested in cultural taste. Several centuries spent on the Earth has served to refine the aesthetic sensibilities of the main characters. The characters, and by extension the director/writer, display their musical eclecticism throughout the film. Adam and Eve sway to the rockabilly of Charlie Feathers and dance together to Denise LaSalle’s 'Trapped By a Thing Called Love' and Adam is equally adept at producing experimental rock with one of his many vintage guitars as he is with a violin or lute. Shout outs to Iggy Pop and Jack White, both of whom have acted in other Jarmusch films, indicate that it’s the director’s taste that inform his characters. It is Jarmush’s own band that contributes much of the film’s original score, a moody mix of Eastern-sounding music and distorted guitar. It also bears mentioning that the cinematography, writing and performances all come together perfectly to create a hilarious, fun and impeccably cool movie.

Ultimately, Only Lovers is a film more about a pair of hipsters than of vampires. Their blood supply is accessed through doctors, seemingly less for moral reasons and more because feeding on innocent victims has become passé. Adam and Eve dress in vintage (even ancient) clothing, wear sunglasses at nighttime and indoors and listen to vinyl records. They dig the underappreciated artists instead of the bigger names: Keaton not Chaplin, Tesla not Edison, Marlowe not that “illiterate philistine” Shakespeare. Adam is so opposed to fame that he fears his reclusiveness will counter-productively lead to building a mystique making his music popular with the uncool humans he calls “zombies”.
Adam and Eve may be living in a time of iPhones and Youtube, but as undying hipsters they have an appreciation for the past. Adam chooses to live in a ramshackle house in Detroit, a city living in the shadow of its former glory, as opposed to the shiny, inauthentic Los Angeles which he refers to as “zombie-central”. Eve, on the other hand, has the magic touch. She can rapidly read her collection of classic literature (from Cervantes to David Foster Wallace) by passing her hand over each page and can tell the age of an object simply by touching it. Only Lovers Left Alive connects the past with the present, high art with pop art and enthusiasm with cynicism. No doubt the vast number of allusions in the film will mean different things to different viewers depending on their own cultural touchstones but it is important to note that the references never exist solely for their own sake. The details all coalesce as a bigger picture of the cycles of history, the depth and reach of culture, its preservation, its decay and its evolution.