Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (Or Undead, Whichever)

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Don’t trust the title. Jim Jarmusch’s newest flight into the fantasies of a teen angst and anima follows the eternal love of Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton, who else?). Comfortable in Tangier when she hears her lover is in the dumps, Eve heroically runs to her man in Ghosttown, Detroit, where he’s carved a fascinating hermit-cum-rock-star life for himself. In a reclaimed house surrounded by impressively aged musical instruments, Adam has powered his home with an off the grid electrical system that could make geeks drool—and making geeks drool is kind of the point. Eve is a student of language—all of them—and the ecstasy it gives her makes you wonder what you’re missing. Unlike Adam, she produces nothing so from whence her spoils of cash flow, I couldn’t say, but neither of them is at a loss for money and their days (or rather nights) are a blur of luxuriating among captivating rubble.

It’s a heroin-chic love letter to the dream of surviving as an artist. In so many ways this film lives out the romance and glamour Jarmusch was more practically mining in Coffee and Cigarettes. Yet it looks less into the process of creation than towards the lifestyle you might expect from a pedigree grunge performer circa 1993. Who’s closer to the creative spark than Adam and Eve? I agree they could only be artists, but did they have to be bloodsuckers? In a perfectly pointed gesture, Eve’s best friend is a sickly Jonathan Marlow (John Hurt); he speaks liberally about the plays he wrote and the thieving hackery of Shakespeare. In this world, fame only goes to the feeble minded to further contaminate the putrid masses (or so thinks Adam).

The first couple travel entirely at night and suffer an audience with Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) who causes trouble and moves in shadows. Ava’s the Opehlia to Adam’s Hamlet, and when I say that I envision Caroline Jones (aka Morticia Adams) with daisies in her hair. Ava is a manic pixie but no dream girl and she lures the boys with her sylphy figure and frightens the girls just by being there (she's got "something" other girls can't offer). It’s quite a good performance, in part because Wasikowska foregrounds the hierarchy among these parasites. The undead live in a politically fraught perpetuity. There are "others" but these are exclusive and enjoy loneliness. Inevitably, the romance of being artists gets a cleaning—artists take from others as a matter of course. The really good ones? Fame is beneath them as it is beneath Jim Jarmusch.

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