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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


  Only Lovers Left Alive


Directed by Jim Jarmusch (2013)

As well as providing a colourful metaphor for capitalist exploitation, the vampire myth frequently prompts another strand of class interpretation, that of the aristocratic splinter.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), co-protagonists of the peculiarly elegant and tasteful Only Lovers Left Alive, are, as their names suggest, prelapsarian archetypes. Over centuries they have remained aloof from mortal humankind, looking down on a world being spoiled by the pursuit of short-term gain, as the aristocrat peers through their pince-nez at the bourgeois. Mind you, they don't need the money and appear to enjoy limitless wealth. Goodness knows where they got it from, though goodness is unlikely to have had anything to do with it.

Jim Jarmusch plants them in a civilisation in decay. In homage to Tamla Motown, Adam has a house in a deserted quarter of post-industrial Detroit, where he collects guitars and knocks out cultish avant-garde rock from a jerry-rigged studio. It makes for a stunning soundtrack. Eve, meanwhile, is holed up in Tangier, nostalgic for a deeper past.

What about the blood, you wonder. Surely that must bring out their baser selves? And we're left in no doubt that Adam and Eve are tempted. But their superiority is expressed in resisting the urge to bite: “That's so 15th century”.

So Adam steals into the local hospital, dressed as a 1970s doctor of course, to buy his supplies, while Eve's dealer is none other than the 16th century playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), around whom the literary jokes abound.

They never use the word 'blood' but refer to it metonymically through the blood type, or as “the good stuff”, and drink from tiny crystal goblets. They are appalled by Eve's wayward sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) who unfortunately hasn't shaken off the habit of taking it straight from the neck.

We join the lovers at a crucial juncture when the “zombies”, as Adam calls mortals (and you're invited to wonder just who are the dead ones here) are threatening their very existence through the proliferation of contaminated blood. Blood for a vampire is not simply an addictive substance, it's also a food, and the “good stuff” is becoming increasingly hard to find.

Adam is depressed at the prospects and the ugliness surrounding him and contemplates suicide. “You should have been around in the middle ages,” Eve scolds him.

So that's the plot, but this is at least as much a love story as a vampire film, and explicitly alludes to Einstein's theory of 'entanglement', in which a pair of particles continue to have a connection even when separated by large distances, such as from Detroit to Tangier.

Adam and Eve's harmonious relationship is both charmed and charming. You really believe it.

The humour of this black comedy is less convincing. Between the too obvious and the too clever there are a few lines that hit the mark, though:

“You've drunk Ian!”

“Yes, and I don't feel well now.”

“What did you expect? He's in the music industry.”

March 14, 2014

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