Tuesday, September 09, 2014

That certainly was visual.

I was hooked on Only Lovers Left Alive from the opening scenes, as the image of what looks like a starry sky turns blurry as it starts to spin, dissolving into a spinning record; as this cover of "Funnel of Love" (performed, like most of the movie's soundtrack, by director Jim Jarmusch's band SQÜRL) begins to play, the movie cuts between matching overhead shots of its two lovers, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). The camera spins like that record, cutting between these two soulmates - he's in Detroit, she's in Tangiers - as they both rest among the many aging, treasured cultural artifacts they've collected, lost in and connected by a state of ecstatic appreciation of music. Of blood too, probably, as Adam and Eve are both vampires, but that's of secondary interest in this scene, and in the rest of the movie; what's important here is we've just met these two, and the movie has found an elegant, mesmerizing way to let us know that they're pretty much perfect for each other.

If that description doesn't pique your interest, than you'll probably want to skip Only Lovers Left Alive; as with most of Jarmusch's films, the filmmaker favors mood, atmosphere and understated character study over plot. Most of his films are bound to be alienating experiences if you're not on their wavelength, and his previous film, The Limits of Control, was the first that lost me (though I dug the soundtrack). Luckily, though, Only Lovers Left Alive is built on the foundations of cultural signifiers - Burroughs, romanticism, rock and roll - that click with me. For anyone able to get with the movie's languorous, sexy meditation on the beauty of entropy, Only Lovers Left Alive is a blast.

 After being separated for some time - months? years? - Adam and Eve are reunited when Eve, concerned (and rightly so) about Adam's state of mind, travels to the States to see him. Jarmusch spends a little bit of time setting up the logistics of vampire life - how Eve must time a transatlantic flight, how both keep a steady supply of blood without claiming many victims - but he's mostly interested in spending a few hours hanging out with his two lovers. It's a pleasure, and it helps that both leads are perfectly cast (I was going to write that Swinton is on a roll this year, but she's been on a roll for her whole life). We watch them dance, make love, get high on bloodsicles and, more than anything, discuss the art and music that have made centuries of life worth living.

Adam and Eve are aesthetes who look down on humans who lack appreciation for the finer things, as well as for gradually trashing their own planet. Naturally, almost every review has described them as "hipsters," and this isn't inaccurate, but it misses the self-deprecating aspect of their portrayal. Eve isn't completely averse to modern life, and early on, she rolls her eyes at Adam's latest rant about the "zombies" (their nickname for humans). And while Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve's sister, stands in for everything Jarmusch finds grating about kids these days, there's also Adam's friend Ian (Anton Yelchin), a fellow guitar aficionado who reminds that good taste isn't the exclusive province of the young (also, Adam and Eve make an awe-struck pilgrimage to Jack White's childhood home). Jarmusch is admitting to his own elitism here, but the movie isn't misanthropic. It simply finds the romance and pleasure in the idea of retreating from life into a sanctuary built from the things one loves. I'm currently typing this in a barn I'm gradually filling with books, records and movies, so what can I say, it speaks to me.

In the movie's darker moments, Adam and Eve talk about wars over water that they seem quite sure are around the corner, and we learn, during a visit with a very Burroughs-esque Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), that the vampires aren't safe from humanity's destructive relationship to Earth. Both the Detroit and Tangiers settings are beautiful, haunting reminders that all things must pass. And yet there's also real joy in this movie, a quiet but constant appreciation for creativity, eroticism and, especially, the genuinely loving, honest relationship at its core. Only Lovers Left Alive ends with its only real horror movie moment, a scene that is also hopeful about the enduring nature of love in its own odd, Jarmusch-ian way. While there might be other great movies this year, I'd be surprised if any make me feel as happy as this one did.