Only Lovers Left Alive


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Only Lovers Left Alive
"What is so disarming about Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is a scarce sense of appreciation - of the vampire couple for each other and the appreciation by both of them for what is great in the world."

Jim Jarmusch takes all the elegant longing, the romantic notability and insatiable moral questioning that had been sucked out of the vampire genre in recent years by faux-perilous teenage kitsch, and gives it back to us with Only Lovers Left Alive.

The night sky is tilting to the right and dissolves into an old record player where the handle with the needle resembles a snake-head. A beguiling Tilda Swinton, stretched out as Eve in Tangier is resting, while Adam, played broodingly by Tom Hiddleston, inspects a mandolin in nocturnal Detroit. He wears a tiny skull as a necklace, she wears hers as a bracelet around her wrist. One skull is black, the other white. The jewelry connects them to each other across the globe and to what they can't have - death. They are vampires. Tilda and Tom as Adam and Eve are joined by her little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) and friend Marlowe (John Hurt at his timeless bloody best) who has seen it all for centuries and centuries.

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When Eve walks through Tangier in pale, slim, cream-colored jeans, an embroidered veil the same vanilla tint covering her head, the men whisper: "Hey, we have something special for you!" They better not be too bold towards the tall graceful woman on her way to the Café Mille et Une Nuits, where she meets Marlowe, as in 16th century Christopher. But, 'hush,' John Hurt's vampire says, "never call me that in public." The Elizabethan dramatist who wrote Doctor Faustus and was Shakespeare's contemporary had quite a mysterious death, and Jarmusch finally solves the riddle. "I wish I met him before I wrote Hamlet," Marlowe comments about Adam towards Eve.

The genius vampires don't become less witty over the centuries, only their abundant hair seems to lose some of its luster. Yak and goat fur, mixed with human hair is responsible for the wonderfully wild hairdos, Jim Jarmusch told me when I asked him at the New York Film Festival press conference.

Everything happens at night. The walks through Tangier and especially the drives through Detroit do wonders in archiving the present state of affairs. Alexander Payne's black and white Nebraska, also screening at the 2013 NYFF, has a similar second province as log and record of crumbling American townscapes. We pause and look with the vampires at history and beauty about to wane. You can almost smell the staircase of the house where Adam lives and collects guitars.

Dr. Faust, Dr. Watson, and Dr. Strangelove take care of a steady stream of blood cocktails, a bit hokey, like the I Heart Detroit mug at the hospital blood bank, though also a sympathetic alternative to deadly neck nibbling. Adam and Eve speak on the phone, he Skypes her into his old TV set, he asks her to come visit. The books she packs state her taste. It can be lonely with all the "zombies" around, which means you and all the other non-vampire cultural dilettantes. Ian, played by Anton Yelchin, is Adam's main bridge and barrier to the world outside the deteriorating mansion. Being a vampire's personal assistant can be a lucrative and a hazardous profession.

Gloves in public go with impeccable predilection in music.

Detroit is his "wilderness". Eve says the area will rise again: "There's water here, this place will bloom." Mirrors used to reflect chandeliers in an old theatre that is now a run-down car park. "Did you play chess with Byron?" Eve wants to know what Mary Wollstonecraft was like. "She was delicious." "I bet she was." So goes the dialogue while they treat themselves to frozen blood-sicles, celebrating their reunion.

What is so disarming about Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is a scarce sense of appreciation - of the vampire couple for each other and the appreciation by both of them for what is great in the world. "You're looking awfully pale today, Dr. Caligari." Little sister Ava lives in LA and her visits usually cause trouble. Mia Wasikowska plays her delightfully spoiled with the tone of a Bling Ring member and a young vampire's appetite.

Should the person sitting next to you during an overnight flight travel under the name Stephen Dedalus or Daisy Buchanan, better watch out not to cut your finger.

Jarmusch is aware of the pratfalls. The vampires revel together in Franz Schubert's music and Jack White's birthplace. The discovery of unseasonable toadstools prompts a conversation about how little we know of our fungi. "You guys shouldn't be here," Eve says to the mushrooms. Climate change won't be stopped by a wall of pictures of Kafka, Baudelaire, and Burroughs alone.

What the vampires are most sick of is our fear. And who can blame them.

Reviewed on: 16 Oct 2013
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A vampire couple contemplate a changing world.
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Director: Jim Jarmusch

Writer: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Slimane Dazi, Wayne Brinston, Aurelie Thepaut

Year: 2013

Runtime: 124 minutes

Country: Germany, US, UK, France, Cyprus

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