Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sanguinary Entanglement

You know you’re watching a Jim Jarmusch movie when the female lead is packing for a trip abroad, and instead of the usual Hollywood dress-porn montage of what she wants to wear, you get a book-porn montage of what she wants to read. (The fact that one of those books is Infinite Jest made me want to run screaming from the theatre. I’m glad I didn’t.)

Jarmusch uses genre not as a mimic, or even a participant, but as an observer.  It’s not so much “Here’s his western” as “Here’s his thoughts on a western.”  Or a road movie, or a samurai flick.  His films have low budget narrative and high budget mood and you either love that or you hate it.  Me, I love that (get me drunk some night and we’ll talk about Dead Man, okay?); and if you love that too, then you shouldn’t miss this film while it’s in a theatre.  Mostly because the Jarmusch style is a perfect fit for a movie about a couple of people who have been around for hundreds of years. 

So what’s it about? Bloodsicles. Subatomic physics. Clever passport names. Quantum entanglement. Spooky action at a distance. Detroit as a vampire city of lifeless buildings, abandoned history, and empty streets.

It’s about undead Adam living in Detroit, while his wife, undead Eve, lives in Tangiers, like a vampire version of Pépé le Moko, and pals around with undead Christopher Marlowe. And when Adam gets a little self-destructive, Eve comes to Detroit to bring him back to un-life.

Who ever drank blood that drank not at first sight?

It’s about zombies (and they’re not what you think). Making a style out of despair. Vintage guitars. Listening to Charlie Feathers sing “Can’t Hardly Stand It.” Dancing to Denise LaSalle singing “Trapped by This Thing Called Love.” Watching Yasmine Hamdan, in a Tangiers bar, singing “Han.” And believing Eve when she predicts: “She will be famous.”
It’s about being so self-centered you could care less, and being so observant that you call the local flora and fauna by their Latin names. Being touched and being blasé. Having a sense of wonder and having seen it all. (The parallel to Adam and Eve as imagined by Mark Twain couldn’t be clearer.) And it’s about how vampires from LA are batshit crazy.

So yes, it's a hipster vampire flick, with a clever running gag about how Adam gets his blood supply, and a number of traditional vampire moments, involving fangs, nearby blood, superhuman speed and strength, and permission to cross thresholds. There is also the fact that these vampires are visible via Skype and smartphone. (Must be a special app.)

But it's also about how Tilda Swinton is a goddess, and Tom Hiddleston can do no wrong. (Seriously—-has he made a single misstep since he hit it big?) It’s about humanity seen in a warped mirror, like all vampire movies. It's about all the things Jim Jarmusch loves, which makes it one of his most personal films.

And it's about an Adam who’s eternally jaded, and an Eve who’s eternally innocent, and carries the Garden with her. To paraphrase Twain: “Wherever this Eve is, there is Eden.”

I could have sworn these guys were at Rockwood last night . . .

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