Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

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Adam lies at his apartment in Detroit, drowning in his music, and thinking of how to end his existence.  Eve goes on a nighttime adventure to visit old friends and foster the connection she has with this world.  They will reconnect, and the world can only guess at the eternal love these two world-weary souls share.  Only Lovers Left Alive is the latest from Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law, Broken Flowers), and stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton.

For all timeJim Jarmusch's films have never struck me as fatalist.  No matter the darkness they sometimes wade into, there is always a deep love and hope for preservation of America.  It's not of the bombastic patriotism that we see during holidays throughout the year, or the damaging love that makes citizens so afraid of those outside the country.  Instead he loves the diner with a tired waitress and two patrons, the blues singer who can draw only a handful of respectful listeners, and the slow decay of the mighty dream as domestic factories turn to rust.

He loves people who love the dream that they could still live up to the American ideal.  This makes his film, Only Lovers Left Alive, something of a change in his approach.  Tilda Swinton arrives in America as the loving, sensuous Eve, who still believes that as long as there is an album she hasn't listened to or an unread book that this land is still worth believing in.  But Tom Hiddleston, as Adam, is somber, filled with the knowledge that whatever skills and wisdom he could impart on the walking dead of Detroit.

In sparse, wounded phrases Adam lashes out as our land.  But Eve, the weirdest of optimists, recognizes the decay not as a permanent loss, but potential energy.  "This place will rise again.  There's water here.  When the cities in the south are burning, this place will bloom."  Jarmusch has not given up on that dream, and that understated yet whimsical defiance in Eve's voice hints at the nights of endless wandering they still have left.  This remains a world for lovers, and in his most patient and romantic film to date, he crafts a reminder that we have all the time in the world.

As the Jarmusch's camera moves through Adam's apartment we see he lives with the trinkets of eras long dead.

As the Jarmusch's camera moves through Adam's apartment we see his tastes are not bound by time.

More than many other directors, the opening scenes of Jarmusch films are a litmus test for whether the viewer is in the emotional wavelength of the story or not.  They're purposely slow, letting the visuals and sounds of the world speak for themselves before any characters have a chance to ruin it with their words.  Only Lovers opens with a swirling universe of stars cutting between a pale man and woman, rotating together in unison with the cosmos, both listening to the same tripped out drone rock.  The camera cuts between the three - universe, man, woman - until they seem part of one whole being.  When the music, and camera, finally stop we finally see they are not in the same room and soon find out they are not even in the same country.  No matter where they are in the universe, these two are as one.

I felt waves of gratitude for this scene, as it so perfectly conveyed a connection that some people can barely articulate - let alone find.  It establishes a rhythm between the two lovers that Jarmusch and editor Affonso Gonçalves which effortlessly conveys their complementary existence even as they are apart.  I loved they created a night life in Tangier for Eve with its perpetual light while the city sleeps.  It is here, too that Jarmusch plays his subtle hand at hinting what she, and Adam, really are as they drug peddlers recognize the thirst in her eyes but have no idea what they are really offering when they tell her they've got what she needs.

It's all so sparse, but so alive!  Even Adam, withdrawn into himself though he is, cannot stop his adorable assistant (Anton Yelchin, with his first non-ensemble role I loved him in) from bringing some joy into his life.  All the lightning and barely populated sets are a form of potential energy that is more exciting to drink in that it is to see in motion.  Adam's apartment is the crown of this particular jewel, and is a dense anachronism of various eras with their music and thoughts just waiting to be brought out.  The production and set designers fill Adam's world with technology from the late 1800's, televisions from the '5os, music playback devices from the '30s, and his trusty laptop.  It all adds more shape to the idea that he, and Eve, are two souls forever floating in a world where time means nothing so long as they have each other.

In the dead of night they still wear sunglasses, and Jarmusch presents Tangier as just bright enough to need them.

In the dead of night they still wear sunglasses, and Jarmusch presents Tangier as just bright enough to need them.

That deep romantic vibe so magnetically brought to life between Swinton and Hiddleston is positively arousing.  They express their love through shared phrases and touches that linger and caress and when we finally get their big love scene it is just the two of them, naked, embracing and swirling with the universe as one once again.  Swinton has always brought empathy to the otherworldly but Hiddleston, freed from the garish theatricality and dismal quality of the Marvel films, is stunning here.  He's a lover exposed by an existence that saddens him, and that spark with Eve brings him back to the barest of life.

The only negative I have, and this barely qualifies, is that this film has to have a plot as Eve and Adam's eternal existence is threatened by the arrival of Eve's sister.  But there are worse things to be burdened with than a performance by Mia Wasikowska - whose work serves as a wonderful reminder that "cute as a kitten" comes with the warning that the kitty still goes into the night to kill for love.  It's also a reminder that no matter the problems that they feel the mortals trudging through life, "the zombies", cause that the two lovers can make plenty of trouble for themselves.  Their life is as the eternal bourgeoisie, artistic recluses who could make the world better if they'd just stop focusing on themselves.

But I would not wish that self-realization on these lovers.  So what if the world decays around them?  Their love does not need witnesses.

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Tail - Only Lovers Left AliveOnly Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Jim Jarmusch.
Starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton.

Posted by Andrew

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