Rated R. Running time: 2 hour 3 min.
Our Advisories: Violence 5; Language 5; Sex 6/Nudity 3.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
The blood, however, you must not eat; you shall pour it out on the ground like water.
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
At last a vampire movie that moves beyond the teen romance and blood curdling horror aspects of the genre into something that adults can enjoy without apology. Jim Jarmusch’s film, which he also wrote, requires patience to enjoy because there is little action until a young vampire who cannot control her urges enters the picture. Up to that point it is a study of two lovers ironically named Adam and Eve, exquisitely played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, who have been living apart, he in an Adams Family typed old house in the Detroit of the near future (no Renaissance of its fortunes yet) and she in an apartment in the picturesque city of Tangiers. She loves literature, her apartment filled with books in many languages, kept not in neatly lined bookshelves, but in tumbling stacks, or laid aside around her bed. Adam, as we shall see, is into music.
They have been around for centuries, so there is world-weariness to them, garnered from having seen so much of human folly. Adam, referring to humans as “zombies,” is the more jaded of the pair, feeling that humans are not content with polluting the rivers, air, and land, but also now their blood, contaminated with so many diseases. He secures his supply of pure blood not by attacking live humans, but by dressing up like a doctor and visiting his supplier Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) at a hospital. Eve, venturing out at night with her head and part of her face covered Muslim-style by a scarf, secures her supply in Tangiers through the good graces of Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt)—yes, according to this film he really did write all of those plays attributed to the actor William Shakespeare.
Adam’s large house is crammed with recording devices, vinyl record turntable, and vintage stringed instruments, especially rare, classical rock guitars. On one wall are posted pictures of people whom he has admired— among them Edgar Allen Poe, Buster Keaton, Albert Einstein, Kafka, Neil Young—and yes, there is even Rodney Dangerfield, at last receiving some respect. A talented composer-musician (Adam will mention to his sister his composing an adagio for Schubert, for which the human took the credit), Adam spends his time playing and recording his music. Apparently some of it has been circulated in the outside world, because he has wads of money, and of late he has been bothered by rock fans ringing his doorbell and seeking an audience. He never answers their ring.
The only visitor he lets in, and the only zombie he can put up with, is Ian (Anton Yelchin). Like an overgrown puppy in his desire to please, Ian is the gofer, Adam being unable to venture forth during the daytime. He locates rare guitars for Adam, and sets forth upon a new quest, a very curious one in that it is an order for a custom-made bullet for Adam’s 38-caliber pistol, the head made of the hardest wood available.
Over in Tangiers Eve has had a dream about her brother, and so when he sounds and looks especially depressed during their long distance conversation, she becomes so worried that she books a flight—a night flight of course—and arrives late at night at her brother’s crumbling home. They spend an all too brief time enjoying each other’s company, he taking her in his Jaguar on a night tour of what is left of the city (it includes a stop to pay homage to musician Jack White’s childhood home.). Most of the houses they pass are empty, their yards overgrown, like Adam’s, with weeds.
Then they receive a call that Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) will be arriving in Detroit from Los Angeles. This is not all to Adam’s liking, and his dread proves well grounded when the out of control teenager arrives bringing chaos and the danger of discovery by zombies due to a fatal incident she precipitates. After kicking Ava out, the pair hastily leaves Detroit and head for Tangiers, where their old friend Marlowe is at the point of death. Soon they too grow weaken, very much needing blood. With Marlowe gone they lack a contact for obtaining purified blood, so they have to…
I have never been a fan of the vampire genre, but because of the beautiful camera work—some of the overhead shots of Eva are truly beautiful, as is one in which she and Adam sit on a niche beneath Moorish arches—and the script so artfully making fun of the genre while investing the main characters with such interesting personalities, that my resistance quickly melted away. It is intriguing to hear Adam talk about “pure blood” with no trace of Nazi or KKK racism. He is worried about physical infections, not mythical racial purity. It is also interesting to compare vampires, with their need to take blood, with Christ, who came to give blood. Vampires feed off others; Christ invites us to feed off him (John 6:51-57). For a while Adam and Eve have found a way of obtaining blood without murdering people for it, but when this is no longer possible, what are they to do? The somewhat sardonic ending is the answer, and also perhaps hints at the meaning of the film’s title.