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Only Lovers Left Alive is a Wonderment
Jim Jarmusch's latest work is an examination of the undead that is paradoxically full of life.

From Only Lovers Left Alive's very first moments, with its camera circling around a starry night sky that slowly dissolves into the rotating grooves of a vinyl record, I found myself utterly enchanted by the latest work from Jim Jarmusch. A return to the effortlessly cool work of his early years, the film takes what should be an utterly exhausted genre staple (the vampire) and crafts an utterly-unique and wondrous world to surround it. And while Jarmusch usually keeps his audience at arm's length, only dabbling in earnestness, this is a profoundly romantic film that achieves a kind of grace his recent work has only flirted with.

It almost seems ridiculous that it has taken Jarmusch this long to dabble in vampiric culture – his characters have always been of the world but separate from it, and the nighttime travels and antisocial behavior perpetrated by these blood-suckers are directly in his wheelhouse. Even given how perfectly matched creator and source material might be here, the film is only a curiosity unless you have the right performers to pull it off. And both Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston turn in incredible work here as Adam and Eve, making their centuries-long love affair entirely believable. Hiddleston's Adam is worn out by his seemingly-infinite existence (a musician by trade, he's recently taken to composing dirges), but you see the spark lit whenever he interacts with Swinton's Eve, a character quickly established to be relentlessly full of curiosity and wonder. Through quick broad strokes we understand these two very different characters and understand how they fill a vacancy in one another. It's wonderful, deft work from Jarmusch the screenwriter in support of Jarmusch the director.

The film also does smart work in keeping the characters separate at the outset, establishing the rules and manner in which they operate on the outskirts of society (covertly purchasing blood from medical professionals, lamenting how humans have managed to poison their own bloodstream) before bringing them together. The chemistry between both is immense, which means the world in a film short on incident and long on character work, so we long for these two to be reunited and savor their time together once it happens. What little bit of plot that exerts itself comes in the form of Eve's “sister” Ava, played by an extremely lively Mia Wasikowska. John Hurt's fellow vampire, whose identity is too rich to spoil here and Anton Yelchin's Ian – Adam's human go-between that provides for him no matter how odd the request – also help fill out the periphery and do fine work.

But this is Swinton and Hiddleston's movie, and every electric moment between the two continually remind us of that. And while the tone struck toward the modern world is elegiac (there's an exquisite moment set in the ruins of an old concert hall/movie palace, and lamenting of what us humans have done to the world runs throughout the picture), it is important that both of these characters have a passion for art both classical and modern. Even if us humans have destroyed the world, it appears the beautiful work we've populated it with is what keeps these characters alive (in a manner of speaking). Which brings me back to that very first shot. It seems what Jarmusch has done here (as he has so often throughout his career) is make works of art that while insular, feel as though they contain multitudes. And while Only Lovers Left Alive may only end up having as limited a reach as an old blues record, if you look at it closely enough you can see the entire universe.





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Ape-Ocalypse
POSTED 7/11/2014