Saturday, June 28, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

…or how to do a vampire love story right. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a little independent movie by Jim Jarmusch. If you blinked last year, you probably missed it - and that’s a shame. The movie was released on DVD in Germany yesterday and I took the chance to snatch a copy for myself.

Okay, so my main reason was this:

But, seriously, the movie stars more people than just Tom Hiddleston, who is standing there and looking delicious. The main cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, and John Hurt. That’s also about all the main characters, four of which are vampires and one proves very mortal.

How do you make a vampire movie these days? With the vampire being one of the classic monsters of horror, it’s very much a case of ‘been there, done that’ for most things you could think of. ‘Good vampires’ have been done over and over again recently. That was fun once (Louis du Point du Lac), even twice (Nick Knight), or three times (Angel), but has become quite tiring by now. Vampire-human relationships are tricky, too. And a 150-year-old guy should not hang around high schools and date 16-year-old girls with no personality, if you ask me.
What can you do with vampires? What angles haven’t been done to death already? One angle I’d like to see more often is the whole ‘ennui’ thing. Another is relationships of any kind among vampires. And how do you cope with seeing the world change over and over again, as an almost-immortal being? “Only Lovers Left Alive” deals with all of that stuff to a certain degree. It knits ennui and world change into one thing, but that’s okay. Seeing how stupid humans stay over time can be tiring.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is the story of Adam and Eve. Well, probably not those Adam and Eve, you know, the ones from the Garden Eden. However, both are pretty old as vampires, that much is obvious from several scenes of the movie (and a deleted scene, in which they talk about how Eve’s people transported the stones for Stonehenge). Adam is a musician with a solid interest in and knowledge of technology (good enough so he can build a little Tesla generator in his garden, so he has electricity at home). Eve is an avid reader, a good dancer, and overall the more pragmatic of the couple. They’ve been married for a long time already (their third wedding was in 1868) and are very much in love with each other. Yet they’ve chosen to live in separate places, he lives in Detroit, she lives in Tanger.
Adam is quite depressed, seeing how the humans (the zombies, as they both put it) treat their surrounding and themselves. How they have even contaminated their own blood - which makes living as a vampire not exactly easier. Eve, sensing his mood and worrying for him after a phone call, travels to Detroit to help him - and not a minute too soon, he already obtained a bullet capable of killing him. The lovers’ reunion, however, is disturbed by Eve’s sister Ava. (And can’t you just hear the dialogue between their parents when Ava was born? ‘It’s a girl again, darling.’ ‘Well, we named our first daughter Eve, how about naming this one Ava?’ ‘Great idea, darling, let’s do just that.’) Ava is, for all intents and purposes, a spoiled brat with the self-control and survival instinct of a wet hanky. How she survived so long (as she must be around 10,000 years old herself, being Eve’s sister), is a complete mystery. Ava just appears in Adam’s home, not even waiting for an invitation, just going in while Adam and Eve are going for a late-night drive. She disturbs her sister and brother-in-law (who is still pissed about that thing in Paris a little over 80 years ago), she diminishes their blood reserves (which Adam gets from a hospital), and in the end her actions force Adam to abandon his home and his beloved instruments and flee back to Tanger with Eve. I’m not going to spoil what happens in Detroit and what happens in Tanger afterwards, but I will say this: for all the love Adam and Eve have for each other, for all their knowledge and their close relationship with nature, they are predators and, unlike some other movies, “Only Lovers Left Alive” accepts that.

The movie definitely is no blockbuster, no movie made by a large studio for making money with it. It’s an independent production that relies more on visuals and the talents of the actors to bring the story to life. There’s few special effects (unfortunately the two scenes involving mirrors have been cut from the movies, but are on the DVD), there’s no glamour in the vampires. They are outsiders, looking a little suspicious (hair seems to be a real problem, once you’ve become a vampire), acting a little out of time (especially Adam, who has removed himself pretty much from the world).
Yet it is exactly this ‘we’re not a major movie’ thing which makes up the charm of the movie. Detroit, falling into ruins, full of neighbourhoods that are anything but filled with life. Tanger, an old city, full of people with shady trades (it seems), yet more alive than Detroit. And four vampires moving through time, remembering the past, watching the present, sometimes guessing the future. Four vampires, three of which seem to be creative in their own way (Christopher Marlowe, played by John Hurt, still writing, Adam composing music, Eve dancing), and one of which hanging on to life without a real destination (Ava, who is living in L.A.). When push comes to shove, though, vampires are the ultimate survivors - and that leaves us both happy for Adam and Eve, who will survive, and worried for our safety.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is definitely a movie worth watching. Don’t expect too much action, rather expect a well-told story with eccentric characters. In the end, only the lovers will stay alive, as they have for such a long time already.

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