Only Lovers Left Alive Poster

Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Only Lovers Left AliveAmerican indie auteur Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is so ironic and refreshing. Despite the topic of vampires being done to death, Jarmusch revitalizes the genre and delivers a psychedelic experience. You’d think that a filmmaker like Jarmusch, whose anti mainstream, wouldn’t dare go near a vampire romance. Instead, Jarmusch presents all the age old vampire clichés with wit, and light-hearted cynicism. In the words of William Shakespeare, or in this case Christopher Marlowe, “I bite my thumb at thee.” Blood popsicles and “Soul Dracula” serve as a satirical deviation from the more serious subject matter.

The film revolves around the melancholic romance between Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Their love has endured several centuries, which is probably more farfetched than the idea of vampires roaming the earth. In today’s western world of infatuation and divorce, true love seems to only exist in fairy tales. Adam and Eve reunite in the decrepit city of Detroit. Adam is a reclusive musician who writes music for the sole purpose of expressing his inner thoughts and emotions.  In a true state of artistry, Adam does not pander for fortune and fame. Although this choice seems to be self-defeating since he’s grown a hipster following due to his mystery and seclusion.

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star in Only Lover Left Alive

Adam has lost all faith in humanity and refers to humans as “zombies”. The only “zombie” he can tolerate is Ian. Whenever Adam needs an antique guitar or some vintage vinyl records he calls on his “zombie” mate. The idea of “zombies” may be Jarmusch’s allusion to the decline of humanity. Blood poisoning and the scarcity of good blood makes reference to an increasingly intoxicated society. One can only speculate that environmental contamination or genetically modified organisms are the culprits.

Aside from some vague references to water wars and blood poisoning, Only Lovers Left Alive is “ars gratia artis”. Or art for art’s sake. Too bad MGM wasn’t affiliated with this film. I guess that studio doesn’t actually stand by its motto. It’s hard to imagine that major motion picture studios have any interest in art anymore. That’s why filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and independent cinema are so essential.

Another integral part of the film is music. I still remember watching Dead Man and being completely mesmerized by Neil Young’s score. The sound of his guitar haunted me for several days. My reaction was similar to Adam witnessing the sensual live performance of Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdam. He said,

“She’s too good to be famous.”

It’s interesting because I had a conversation about “Top 40” music with a friend recently. We both agreed that “Top 40” music isn’t music. I suppose good music doesn’t actually correlate with fame. In any case, the film’s score is a perfect vehicle to transport you into this other worldly experience. Only Lovers Left Alive and its filmmaker, Jim Jarmusch, are too good to be mainstream.

Poster of the Darjeeling Limited

Film Review: The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Stylized poster of The Darjeeling Limited

Dedicated to my mate from Oz, Jeff Khan

Recently, my friend Jeff had asked me about my thoughts on Wes Anderson’s, The Darjeeling Limited. I didn’t have an answer at the time because I haven’t seen it yet. I was a bit embarrassed since I consider myself a fan of Mr. Anderson’s work. So, I told Jeff that I’ll watch it over the weekend and write a review about it.

If you’ve watched some of Anderson’s films before, you’re probably well aware of the fact that he likes to work with certain actors. Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and newcomer Adrien Brody star in the film. And yes, Bill Murray makes a cameo as well. In fact, the opening sequence features Mr. Murray speeding through the streets of India in the back of a taxi. Clearly he’s in a hurry. So much so that he forgets to pay his fare. He’s late for his train, which is named the Darjeeling Limited. This is where we’re also introduced to Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody). Peter’s late too but, he’s quick enough to catch up with the train. We can’t say the same for poor old Bill.

And so, Peter makes his way through the train. On his way he passes the commuter, and economy portions of the train before he arrives in the upper class section. In one of the compartments, he finds his two brothers Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Francis (Owen Wilson). Francis has organized a reunion with his brothers after nearly being killed in a motorcycle ‘accident’. Given his father’s recent passing, one can suspect that this was no accident. Nevertheless, he’s convinced his brothers to come along with him on a spiritual journey across India.

Three brothers on the train.

Jack, Francis, and Peter on their spiritual journey across India.

Throughout the film we’re exposed to Anderson’s attention to detail, expertly direction, and picturesque cinematography. Film students should study Anderson’s work. He uses a variety of camera techniques to support his meticulously crafted mise-en-scene. I doubt that Anderson ever utters the words, “we’ll fix it in post.” I love when a filmmaker pays attention to the details.

In their compartment, Jack walks around with his Hotel Chevalier robe. Hotel Chevalier is a short film written and directed by Wes Anderson. It serves as the prologue to The Darjeeling Limited. It also explains Natalie Portman’s cameo appearance in the latter stages of the film. Moreover, when Jack is seen checking his ex-girlfriends messages, the letters S.T.D appear in the sign above him. I wonder if this was coincidental or on purpose. Nevertheless, the film is clearly well composed and skillfully executed.

In addition to its stunning aesthetic, the film’s story contains some substance as well. The three feathers clearly resemble some spiritual significance. When Francis asks his brothers to perform the ritual with him, they all execute it differently.

Peter is clearly struggling with his past and he’s uncertain about the future. He wears his father’s prescription sunglasses despite them causing him headaches. His wife is pregnant yet, he’s not genuinely happy. How can he take on this responsibility and move on with his life if he’s still reluctant to let go of the past? During the ceremony, Peter keeps his feather which symbolizes his reluctance to let go.

Francis, on the other hand, does the ritual properly. He buries the feather under the rock which shows his willingness to put the past behind him. Moreover, Jack lets his feather get taken away by the wind. He wants to move on with his life but, he’s still in turmoil. He’s upset and struggling with himself. The train stewardess (Amara Karan) asks Jack, “What’s wrong with you?” He simply replies, “Let me think about that. I’ll tell you the next time I see you.” Evidently, Jack is still trying to find himself. He writes short stories as a way of communicating his inner thoughts. All of his characters are “fictional” yet, everyone knows that he’s writing about himself.

In the end, all of the brothers drop their luggage to hop onto the train. They’ve all come to terms with their lives. Overall, The Darjeeling Limited is probably not one of Anderson’s best films. However, it’s still a whole lot better than a lot of films out there today. That says a lot about Wes Anderson; he’s one of the best filmmakers around.