Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4) : Deadpan Vampires in Artistic Ennui

onlyloversareleft01 Eternity is a dreadfully boring concept, but Jim Jarmusch’s new film “Only Lovers Left Alive” tickled me with the languid ennui of its vampire characters, and it is definitely a lot more entertaining than those tedious Twilight movies. The life may feel tepid to these gloomy bloodsuckers, but their artistic ennui is sometimes hilarious to watch thanks to Jarmusch’s own deadpan approach, and we willingly let ourselves relax in its slow but tantalizing rhythm while constantly amused by its deadpan vampire characters.

The movie revolves around a vampire couple named Adam(Tom Hiddleston) and Eve(Tilda Swinton). Although it is not so clear about how long they have lived(are they that Adam and Eve, I wonder?), they have lived long enough to get bored with their eternal life while being pretty tired of humanity. They certainly need human blood for their survival, but they do not want to get involved with human beings much, and Adam usually disregard them as ‘zombies’. As a sophisticated guy who knew and interacted with many prominent artists and intellectuals throughout the human history, he keeps lamenting about the cultural decline of human society, and his words and behaviors will probably remind you of those self-absorbed artists whining behind their aloof attitude.

At present, Adam and Even are living separately, and he has been leading a hermit life in some barren neighbourhood in Detroit while anonymously composing music for other artists as he did before(one of the famous recipients in his long past was Franz Schubert, by the way). Despite his considerable contribution to the music industry, he rather wants to remain anonymous as a reclusive, and his only connection to the world outside is his trustful and resourceful manager Ian(Anton Yelchin), who can find anything Adam wants except blood(Adam gets the blood for himself through his occasional night visit to a local hospital).

onlyloversareleft04 Maybe because he has been living so long in his cozy cocoon filled with the memories and objects of the past, Adam considers killing himself with a special wooden bullet, though I am not very sure about whether that bullet can really can kill him or not. It may be just another self-indulgent behavior to entertain himself out of boredom, but his lover Eve takes it seriously, so she flies from Tangier, Morocco to see him again.

While the lovers are happy to see each other again, their ennui continues in its slow pace, and they just killing time with each other. This may not sound exciting to you, but the movie is oddly engaging thanks to the director/writer Jim Jarmusch and his two talented lead actors. While deftly tuning their performances to the languid tone of the movie, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are compelling to watch even when their characters are mired in their most bored state, and they also nicely capture the humor inside their characters while never winking to us. One of the silliest things in the movie is how Adam and Eve call animals and plants; they use scientific names for them rather than saying their plain names, and I guarantee that you will learn how to call a skunk academically at one point.

Like many works by Jarmusch, the movie mainly depends on the mood and background rather than its plot, and Jarmusch effectively uses the locations in Detroit and Tangier to reflect the languor surrounding the characters. Adam’s shabby lair is decorated with lots of interesting goodies including the electronic guitars from the 1960s and other objects from older times, and there is a wonderful scene in which Eve virtually scans through many books in different languages while filling her suitcases with her books to read.

onlyloversareleft05 I also chuckled at many knowing references spread throughout the movie, and some of good ones come from an aging vampire who has been friendly with Eve as a neighbour. John Hurt, who has been always suitable for weary old guy roles, has a droll fun with his character who was probably a certain famous writer in the era of William Shakespeare, and his intimate scenes with Swinton reminded me of how much they looked different in Bong Joon-ho’s recent film “Snowpiercer”(2013).

The movie gets a little more interesting later in the story when the situation becomes a little annoying to Adam and Eve. As notified to them in their dreams, Eve’s sister Ava(Mia Wasikowska) appears in front of them on one day, and she quickly breaks their meandering rhythm of ennui as soon as she enters Adam’s house. Ava is far more active compared to them, and you can easily sense the potential of a trouble when Ian happens to spend some time with them during one night. Ian still has no idea about the true identity of Adam as well as his beautiful ladies, and we all know leaving a guy alone with a vampire girl is pretty much like leaving a cat alone with an opened tuna can.

onlyloversareleft03 Jim Jarmusch’s films were sort of acquired taste to me at first, but some of them somehow found a way of growing on me after watching them. While his previous work “The Limits of Control”(2009) made me frustrated due to its intolerable barebone blandness, I enjoyed his better works including “Broken Flowers”(2005) and “Coffee and Cigarettes”(2003), and “Only Lovers Left Alive” has that enjoyable low-key humor I observed from them. Although his vampire characters in the movie are not very scary(they even have beating heart, by the way), they are as funny as the deadpan characters in Jarmusch’s films, and Swinton, Hiddleston, Wasikowska, and Hurt ably fill the characters with their distinctive presences.

The image of vampires in these days are considerably damaged by Twilight movies, but vampires are still interesting story material to play with, and, like Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium”(2012), “Only Lovers Left Alive” proves that point well with its own humorous style. These vampires are so bored in their ennui that sucking blood feels like a trivial business to them even at their most desperate moment – but they will gladly suck your blood anyway.

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One Response to Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4) : Deadpan Vampires in Artistic Ennui

  1. Susan says:

    I enjoyed this review. My daughters are both huge fans of Tom Hiddleston, and we are looking forward to seeing this movie.

    SC: The movie will be released in US around this April.

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