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Review: Only Lovers Left Alive


I thoroughly enjoyed Only Lovers Left Alive. I thought Tom Hiddleston (Adam) and Tilda Swinton (Eve) had wonderful chemistry: Swinton's kind, tired eyes warmed every scene with compassion. (Side note: if Joseph Gordon-Levitt hurries up with the Sandman movie, she might be a compelling Desire. Also, there were a number of moments in this film that made me think this was Hiddie's audition tape for Morpheus.)

I wasn't expecting the script to be quite so droll, but I liked both the vampires' sense of humor and the director's: Adam and Eve calling themselves such; Eve holding the Apple (just one example of her skill at the art of survival); Eve in white vs. Adam in black -- the yin and the yang. I loved the intimacy of their years together: how well she knew him, how she placed him right at that corner, knowing what he'd find: that was her true gift to him -- giving him a reason to stick around. At the end, they "chose life," as it were, chose to see what happened next, despite feeling that the world is running down.

Their passions have kept them alive for so long -- it is interesting to consider this as a zombie movie from the perspective of the vampires: they are the remaining survivors (Only Lovers Left Alive) against the mindless swarms, clinging to beauty, science, literature, and art in the midst of mediocrity. To me, all the name-dropping (Byron, Tesla, etc.) appeared to be a friendly nod of acknowledgment to the art house crowd likely to watch this film: Eve used Daisy Buchanan and Stephen Dedalus as pseudonyms for their flight to Tangier, and it was kind of a win-win for her: she knew the "zombie" on the other end of the line was too mundane to recognize the Gatsby and Ulysses references, and if the person had noticed, well, he or she was something special, perhaps worthy of consideration. It almost seemed to me to be a little pat on the back to the audience: "Yes, you actually appreciate the good stuff," as well as a minor poke at short attention span blockbuster culture.

I loved the setting: so atmospheric. We sat seventh row center, with no one in front of us, and I just wanted to walk into the screen. I found it charming that their dwellings were untidy: vampires as the ultimate procrastinators. They would've accumulated a lot of things over the ages, and if you've got an eternity, you can always tell yourself that you'll clean up tomorrow, so it never gets done. :) Despite Adam's threadbare robe, the vampires' assortment of treasures seemed rather well preserved when set against the backdrop of Detroit's urban decay.

It was fun seeing Eve's collection of books she considered worthwhile, such as David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, as well as vintage rarities. I've always thought that if I were a vampire, I'd spend a good portion of my unlife catching up on my reading. The whole Marlowe (John Hurt - is he ever not working?) plot line was entertaining, too.

I also liked the amanita muscaria as metaphor - deadly things of the dark out of place and out of time, like the vampires.

A friend of mine wondered why the vampires wore sunglasses at night (with apologies to Corey Hart). I noticed that they only wore them when they were around humans. Given that their eyes changed color when they were hungry or tempted, I theorize that they wore them to avoid notice. For example, Eve put hers on after seeing the man's blood on the plane. I also observed that, in the club, Ava was the last to put hers on -- not surprising, as she clearly likes to live dangerously. My husband thinks the sunglasses served to mitigate sensory input, like the gloves, and that's an additional possibility. (I'll admit to swooning a little when Adam removed Eve's glove.)

I also thought the contamination of their food source was an interesting plot point -- if the herd is sick, the apex predator is impacted. They can survive for millennia, but not without sustenance.

This won't mean anything to those who are unfamiliar with Vampire: The Masquerade, but in the car after the movie, I shook my head at D., smiled, and muttered, "Toreador." He grinned and said, "Ya think?" ;) (Toreador is a clan in the Camarilla faction of the tabletop RPG. They are characteristically ... well, watch the movie. :) )

Overall, I thought this film was a well-executed character study. I can see why it was nominated for a Palme d'Or, and I will almost certainly purchase the DVD - the film's languid pace is well worth savoring during repeat viewings. I won't be surprised if it turns out to be my best movie of 2014.

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