Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive – review

Director: Jim Jarmusch

First released: 2013

Contains spoilers

One issue I have about the place that I live is that if a film is slightly from left field there is a very good chance it will not play close to home. We have two multi-screen cinemas and, at best, we might get a more unusual film on for a week at one of them but often – as was the case with this film – it came nowhere near home.

So I have waited for the DVD and waited with anticipation as the word seemed to be good, the film was garnering praise… I wanted to like the film, I really did, but as I sat and watched it I realised that the praise was perhaps more a reaction to the fact that it simply wasn’t a teen vampire flick than the quality of the film itself.

Eve spinning
Now, don’t get me wrong – there is an excellent cast, and the film does not purport to be a horror flick. It is a slow, character driven piece that could have eschewed the vampirism altogether to a degree. It looks at the human condition through the eyes of immortality – but fails to actually explore this in a meaningful way. But let’s look at the story (or what story there is, at least). The film begins with stars, which begin to spin in the sky, these become a record and the record segues into main characters Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) with the camera spinning like the record. It shows infinity, tied to music, tied to the characters – who are together though physically separated – and feels like an old psychedelic music film.

Adam checks a guitar
He is in Detroit, the building awash with old tech. She is in Tangiers. A man, Ian (Anton Yelchin, Fright Night) visits him with guitars for sale and we get a comment about Adam having seen Eddie Cochrane play one model… he catches himself, on YouTube he adds. Adam pays for the guitars and then asks Ian if he can have a wooden bullet (brass casing, with dense wood bullet) made for him, for an art project – Ian agrees and then discovers that the toilet is still out of order and offers to get a plumber. Adam reacts negatively but then says he intends to fix it himself.

John Hurt as Kit Marlowe
She is in Tangiers and walks through the night, ignoring shady salesmen, until she gets to a café where she meets her old friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, Hellgate). He tells her (again) not to use that name in public, she makes a “cryptic” comment about dropping hints and he hands her some of the “good stuff” from the French Doctor and we have hit my problem with the film. It starts with name dropping, Adam dropping in the name of Eddie Cochrane is the beginning of a long list of name dropping through the film, but it seems without purpose.

Drinking (bottled) blood
The vampires seem to dislike humanity, referring to them as zombies and yet name drop them all the time. (As an aside, zombie entered the English language, as far as I know, in 1819 and was a name of a ruler of runaway slaves – given the very cringe worthy dialogue such as Liege Lord this still seemed too modern though it could have worked generically if they had bothered to properly age the vampires.) The “cryptic” Marlowe commentary reflects around the idea that Shakespeare never wrote his plays and Marlowe did. Not only are the hints that Eve suggests unnecessary, as that conspiracy theory exists anyway, but the constant referencing of Marlovian Theory got tiresome (and why have a picture of Shakespeare and claim he had to be used as Marlowe was ‘dead’ but also call him a hack). One reason why the vampires disliked humanity was the fact that they had even managed to pollute their own blood (thus many persons' blood had become undrinkable), and so the vampires had to go to great lengths to get clean blood.

strange tech - an aside, not a story
Those great lengths were apparently buying them from reputable sources, who ensured that the blood was good. There was little of a storyline around this, it just was. So, after Eve travelled to America to see Adam, her husband, because he seemed down, we touch upon his suicidal tendency but that goes nowhere. Perhaps the story was about his music, but he seems to be releasing it whilst staying under the human radar and yet freaking out if it is played anywhere – that wasn’t the story. Perhaps (and the film has lots of embryonic good ideas that aren’t expanded on) it is his strange (Tesla related) technology that is beyond humanity – but that isn’t it, either.

quick dissolve
Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up and is a bad girl, apparently, without the caution the other two show. So perhaps that’s the story? Well, she does eat Ian and so they kick her out and then dump his body out in some chemical soup that immediately eats the flesh away. But there is no real consequence to her, nor them (although they do decamp to Tangiers). The meaningful camera shots of Ian meeting traders in music when out with the vampires lead to nothing. To be honest the entire sister storyline reminded me of the flick Kiss of the Damned only that did it so much better.

Mia Wasikowska as Ava
The character aspect of the film failed. This was down to dialogue that seemed hackneyed, full of (historical) name dropping (for the sake of it) and reaching for a philosophical point that it never got close to achieving. This is despite the fact that the film had a very strong cast who worked well despite the dialogue, fighting through to offer us characters that the script drew as wisps. There are good ideas floating in here, such as the technology that Adam has or the powers of psychometry that the vampires seem to have – being able to age things by touch – that are there but seem underutilised (if utilised at all). Eve seems to commune with nature to a degree but we get no expansion there either.

The film ended and I felt underwhelmed. I felt disappointed also, as I had really wanted to enjoy it – perhaps my expectations were a tad on the high side… I can’t say it deserves more than 5 out of 10 and that is generously awarded due to the efforts of the players.

The imdb page is here.


Unknown said...

Finally got a chance to see this one, and I have to say I disagree a bit with your feelings on this one. I thought it was pretty funny. Perhaps there is a cultural divide on this one, but I really liked it, but then I enjoy most of Jarmusch's films, which though they may frequently fall within a genre, are not really about that genre at all. I think I liked it because of the hypocrisy of the characters actually. I found it funny that she constantly references his "heroes" and he constantly denies having them, though he so very clearly does. It plays into everything else that is contradictory about these characters, actually. They are in equal parts drawn to the creations of man, while being disgusted by them, and in their most desperate state drawn to the humans themselves. They love and hate them in equal measures. They isolate themselves from the "zombies", but yet those same "zombies" end up drawing them in finally. Something about it was a bit akin to The Addiction for me, although with a lot more humor to it. Ok, the historic references were not subtle, but it all just lends itself more fully to the humor of the story for me. I think there is more to this. I'll definitely be giving it another viewing.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Margaret - great to hear from you.

I know a few people that did really like the film but it just didn't gel for me and, you know what, that's the joy of both movies and the vampire genre :)

LoBo said...

Hello and happy new year. It's been aw hile since i last commented here and was visiting your site.

Hmm, i posted a message here in October, but for some reason it doesn't show up here. I'll post it again.

I agree. I was very disappointed in this film. It was quite frankly boring and nothing interesting happend. I believe it had too much focus of people playing music.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hey Lobo, good to hear from you and Happy New Year to yourself too :)

I don't know why a previous message never showed - I always authorise them. Perhaps a glitch on the blogger end?