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Only Lovers Left Alive: Vampires vs. zombies

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In Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive a depressed vampire looks with disdain on humanity. He refers to people as "zombies." Once upon a time, vampires were monsters that hid in the dark, emerging to suck the blood from the living. But perspectives changed over time.

Now vampires are romantic figures: wise, refined and tragic in the grooviest way, while zombies - us - contaminate the waters and taint the blood supply. Zombies lumber across the landscape - clothing in tatters, bodies falling apart, ravenously seeking "Brains! BRAINS!!," mostly likely because they - we - don't have any.

Is that the statement Jarmusch is making? Maybe. Maybe he's just dicking around. Certainly he is offering a portrait of long-time love at least as interesting as Robert Michell's recent Le Week-End. Whatever he's doing, it looks great.

My original plan for this essay was to not mention the word vampire until the last couple of paragraphs. I intended to draw you in by focusing on the hipster couple played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, then surprise you with the fact that they were vampires. But I liked the vampire/zombie comparison better and decided to lead with that. I wonder how many readers rolled their eyes and turned their attention elsewhere when they saw that the film is, technically, yet another vampire flick?

Which brings us to what would have been the beginning of this piece. Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) have been a couple for ... for long enough that one of their friends is Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). Yes, that Christopher Marlowe.

Eve currently lives in Tangier, where she immerses herself in literature, drifting the dark streets and savoring the minutiae of the city. She visits with Marlowe and they sip "the good stuff" out of crystal glasses and chat. She is thin, pale and both warm and cool.

Adam currently resides in what's left of Detroit. The lean, pale, long-haired figure makes engagingly dissonant music on his guitar. An eager-to-please fan named Ian (Anton Yelchin) is his Renfield, taking care of Adam's outside needs. Recently Ian was tasked with commissioning a bullet made with a hard wood center for his master. Sad Adam steps out on his own sometimes, securing his blood from Dr, Watson (Jeffrey Wright) at a blood bank.

Sensing Adam's depression, Eve travels (via night flights) to Detroit to care for her lover. They fuck, dance, eat blood popsicles and go clubbing, driving by Jack White's childhood home along the way. Then Eve's annoying teenage sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) comes to visit and spoils the fun.

The story is thinner than the vampires, but the music is good, the atmosphere is rich in decadence and the acting is flawless. The tone may be hipster to the nth degree, but the characters are so specific that the film feels personal. I suspect some viewers will find the goings-on pretentious, boring and irksome.

I wanted to reject the film, but I liked spending time with these creatures. I enjoyed visiting their wistful world and watching their love rise above the malaise. Only Lovers Left Alive is slight, gloomy, romantic, weirdly funny at times and sweet in its own twisted way.

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Related Film

Only Lovers Left Alive

Official Site: sonyclassics.com/onlyloversleftalive

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Writer: Jim Jarmusch

Producer: Reinhard Brundig and Jeremy Thomas

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi, Carter Logan and Wayne Brinston

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