I know what you’re thinking. “Did the world really need another vampire movie?” The answer is assuredly no. But then, did the world need a vampire movie directed by Jim Jarmusch? Certainly not! Are we better off that we now have one? Actually, yeah, a little.
Jarmusch, one of American cinema’s greatest eccentrics, has dabbled with genre pictures before – his last movie before this was 2009’s esoteric hitman thriller The Limits of Control. Here once more he takes a done-to-death (pun unintended) genre and makes it distinctly Jarmuschian – more so even, in that Only Lovers Left Alive seems to be repeatedly referencing the auteur’s filmography. There are tinges of Broken Flowers in the reunions of old friends and lovers, and a number of extended night-time driving scenes conjure memories of Night on Earth.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play the problematically named Adam and Eve, two vampires married for some 150 years, although Adam is many centuries older and Eve may predate him millennia. As their numbers have dwindled and their race developed a conscience, these children of the night have moved into isolation, despairing at the failure of “the zombies” – what they call humans – to evolve to meet their true potential.
Adam, possessed of the gift to play any instrument (it is alleged he wrote music attributed to Schubert back in the day), lives apart from Eve in Detroit, soaking in the industrially drained city’s music history and releasing it with his own remarkable new alt-rock compositions. Eve, meanwhile, spends her nights in Tangiers, Morocco, absorbing tomes of literature and hanging out with her vampire pal Kit (John Hurt), who is in fact the immortal form of the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. While Adam and Eve keep in touch via FaceTime, the distance has begun to grow too much for the pair, and Adam’s increasing despondence at the state of mankind is pushing him towards thoughts of suicide. Eve decides to take a night flight to visit him, and their romance blossoms anew.
The concept of immortality clearly tickles Jarmusch pink and he and his stars have boundless fun with it. Adam and Eve’s anecdotes about great moments in history that they experienced, or regretfully missed, are delivered as deadpan as possible, but you almost want to see Hiddleston and Swinton corpse (pun intended this time) just so they can laugh with you. Their habit of naming all flora and fauna by their Latin genera never fails to draw a smile. But more so it’s the idea of a literally undying love that gives Jarmusch and his performers the most room to play with. Adam and Eve can ponder their eternity together, or, when things look bad, the impending collapse of that presumed eternity together. Hiddleston and Swinton, with their similarly angular faces, ghostly pale skin and slender bodies look not so much like they were made for one another but rather that they have grown to look like one another over the decades.
The cinematography by Swimming Pool and Carlos D.P. Yorick Le Saux is excellent, capturing the grim moodiness of Adam’s hideaway and making the darkness of Detroit and Tangiers seem unthreatening and even hopeful. The opening shot of the film, a night sky full of stars, spins into a trail of lights that forms a perfect graphic match with a turntable spinning gently in Adam’s apartment.
The music is another standout point of the film; Dutch composer Jozef van Wissem provides an ethereal rock score that, while it may not sound quite as magnificent as characters within the film claim it does, does sound like something very new. Whether through clever camera trickery or impossible talent, Hiddleston is seen playing a wide range of instruments in the film with exceptional skill – regardless of who is playing, it helps sell the idea of this immortal who has had centuries to perfect himself.
The film takes an unfortunate dip in the second half with the arrival of Eve’s sister Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska in a role assumedly written for Juno Temple. She intrudes as much on the film as she does on the lovers, and her feckless attitude to her vampirism contradicts the subtlety of the universe that has already been established.
Perhaps Jarmusch’s most playful film to date, Only Lovers Left Alive is not quite as deep as it often thinks it is. But it is a pleasure to watch for almost all of its two-hour runtime. It will almost certainly be best remembered for how in a world awash with vampire stories it managed to create a number of new ideas. Including blood popsicles. Nothing beats blood popsicles.
(originally published at http://www.nextprojection.com)