This film was originally reviewed as part of my coverage of the 31st Miami International Film Festival.
There are vampire movies and then there are movies about people who just so happen to be vampires. Jim Jarmusch’s hypnotizing and wildly imaginative Only Lovers Left Alive is one of the later. Pitch-black in its tone, sharp in its wit, and lethargic in pace, Jarmusch’s nevertheless enrapturing character study follows two centuries-old vampires –Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) – as they bemoan the present state of the world while also waxing philosophical about the past and the future. With its near non-existent plot, poetic musical cues and long stretches of… well, nothing, Jarmusch’s film is more poem than prose; a statement on the deteriorating state of modern society.
Hiddleston, whose star-making turns as the devilish Loki has been the sole delight in the otherwise bland Thor movies, is terrific here as the withdrawn and depressed Adam. A goth-rock musician who spends his days and nights composing music in a battered dump of a house in Detroit, Adam has grown miserable with society’s rotting state, especially the people who populate it. Dubbing them “zombies,” he longs for the days when arts and sciences were at their zenith; the days when he rubbed elbows with Tesla, Poe and Einstein, even inspiring them. In fact, he hangs photos of all three, and many other famous figures on his wall in the way college students adorn their dorm rooms with Bob Marley posters. His only contact to the outside world is Ian (Anton Yelchin), a shaggy dimwit who idolizes his music and sells him vintage guitars while remaining completely oblivious to Adam’s blood-sucking nature.
To be fair, aside from his pale skin, nothing about Adam screams “vampire.” Unlike the Twilight crowd, he doesn’t glow in the sun nor does he suck blood from the necks of “zombies” the way Anne Rice’s vamps would. No, that would be a mistake, especially in this modern world rife with drug and STD-contaminated blood. Eve, who lives in Tangiers, partakes in a similarly lonely existence. She has one friend – Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) – Yes, that Christopher Marlowe – he of Shakespeare fame –whom she shares old memories with, and who provides her with pure blood supplies.
When Adam threatens suicide, she flies out to Detroit to be with him – or rather, engage his spirits in conversation, reminisce about the good times, the bad ones, and explore landmarks like… the house Jack White grew up in. Oh, did I mention the movie is chock-full of quirky name dropping and is hilarious because of it? Well, there you go. Digressions aside, Swinton – who could probably pass off as a vampire in real life – is exceptional here. Sporting albino dreadlocks, and dressed in shades of white, her Eve, contrary to her name, functions as a motherly figure – both nurturing and a ball of optimism. I don’t know how she does it because if I were married to a sourpuss like Adam for centuries, I’d probably kill myself. Perhaps that’d explain her residence in Tangiers.
The real star here is Jarmusch’s sharp screenplay though. Yes, it does ultimately get a little too heavy on the name-dropping, and many may find its articulate protagonists smug or too ‘hipster-ish,” but the writing, for the most part, is wrought with such intelligence, such poetic beauty, that I couldn’t help but identify with the plights of these wistful characters. Let’s face it, what Jarmusch is trying to say here is that in today’s world real art is incredibly hard to come by, what with the Lady Gagas, Keishas and Justin Beibers of the world. Combine those themes with his stylish directorial choices – the artful use of slo-motion, the atmospheric soundtrack, his deliberately slow pacing – and you’re in for one bizarre, beautiful and trippy experience.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Principal Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin
Editing: Affonso Gonçalves
Cinematography: Yorick Le Saux
Music: Jozef van Wissem
Running time: 123 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Rating: R for language and brief nudity
On a side note, bravo to Sony Pictures Classics for distributing this movie and selling it as a quasi-thriller in the trailer below.