Three decades into his career, indie stalwart Jim Jarmusch delivers one of his best films yet
Since, lest we forget, these romantic, sunglass-clad hipsters are also ancient vampires, the acquisition of blood untainted by modern illnesses is shown to be a continuous concern. Murder is not ideal, especially when one is highly invested in keeping an extremely low profile, so Adam has a deal worked out with a nervous local doctor, hilariously played by Jeffrey Wright; Eve gets "the good stuff" from her Tangier hook-up, fellow undead-ite Christopher Marlowe (Jarmusch regular John Hurt). The drug-addiction metaphor, a frequent vampire-tale device, is made overtly obvious; sips of blood inspire ecstatic swoons, and a dwindling supply is seen as justification for reckless behavior.
Unlike those old Hammer films, there's no stake-wielding Van Helsing type pursuing these creatures of the night. Unlike the Twilight films, there's no rival supernatural faction, either. If there's a villain, it's actual and emotional vampire Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve's bad-penny sibling, who swoops in during a full moon for a most unwelcome visit. She's been bumming around LA ("Ugh, zombie central," groans Adam), but misses her sister — and as exaggeratedly obnoxious as this character is, living forever while everyone else ages and dies around you would get lonely. Plus, it's Jarmusch's way of making sure things don't get too serious. Sure, some vampires are soulful, existentially tortured musical geniuses — but some of 'em are shallow, impulsive brats who just wanna have fun. It takes all kinds.
Only Lovers Left Alive's biggest antagonist is simply the outside world, with its epidemics of dull minds and blood-borne diseases. "The vampire is a resonant metaphor," Jarmusch writes in the film's press notes. "Adam and Eve are metaphors for the present state of human life." But the takeaway isn't dour in the slightest, for this is also a gorgeously filmed (by frequent François Ozon collaborator Yorick Le Saux), sharply realized dark comedy. The delight Jarmusch takes in tweaking the vampire mythos — sunlight most certainly kills, but garlic is "a superstition" — is just as enjoyable as his interest in exploring the agony, ecstasy, and uneventful lulls of immortality. *
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE opens Fri/18 in San Francisco.
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