Director/ Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright
Synopsis: Two ageless vampires, Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) reunite after a cross-continental divide, still trying to survive on love and blood in the depressing 21st Century.
Jim Jarmusch proudly alludes to his muses in most of his films. At times it can be implicit (a theme relating to an author’s opus), conspicuous (Johnny Depp’s William Blake in Dead Man) or downright blatant (such as a tableau of artists, authors, musicians and film stars plastered on Adam’s wall in Only Lovers Left alive). Showing his education and appreciation of the arts is admirable at times or occasionally irksome when overtly stylised or referenced. Only Lovers Left Alive is nearly all unabashed meditations on the art that have made him who is today.
You could read Only Lovers Left Alive as a vibrant tale of vampires who have lived through the ages and have shaped the world they’ve lived in. You could also see it as Adam and Eve as Jarmusch – claiming to be seminal figures, influencing music, film and books. It’s not to say that Jarmusch hasn’t done these things, but the self-congratulatory element of this film does feel gaudy.
It is not an expensive film in other means, and the uneventful nature of most scenes is what is most refreshing. For a vampire film (especially against the tide of Twilight and others like it) it’s solemn and pensive – what a vampire film should be. Portraying this better than anyone else in the cast is Tom Hiddleston, a vampire who, had Christopher Marlow (John Hurt) known at the time, would have inspired Hamlet. Gloomy and tired, Hiddleston’s Adam is what we should expect from a 300-year-old man. The world has changed around him, with the worst of it enveloping him now. The “zombies” of today, he feels, have no romance in their lives, no passion, and no respect. It’s a spot-on message encompassing both torment and humour in its overall rumination.
Swinton’s is more liberal towards the new societies, though happier living in Tangier, albeit. Having lit up the screen in David Bowie’s The Stars (Are Out Tonight) video, fashioning bleach-blonde hair, Swinton has entered into a new vogue. Here she radiates a light against the darkness of the vampire-orientated world. It also makes her scenes in Tangier noticeably unusual – racially and stylistically different to the natives. If Hiddleston’s Adam is a suicidal romantic, Swinton’s Eve is an animated angel of death, emitting an alluring yet deadly glow.
There is magnetism in Marco Bittner Rosser’s production design and Anja Fromm and Anu Schwartz’s art direction. Sets and props have been meticulously thought over, with enough detail to let your eyes roam around the frame again and again. The only issue in wanting to revisit the film is its lengthy run-time. At 123 minutes it isn’t laborious to focus on, though too many parts are either too long or too short. Scenes in Detroit – a perfect setting for the musical accompaniment – are fleeting whereas expositional moments drag on just slightly too long.
Had Jarmusch explored more of Adam and Eve’s time on this earth – and how much they inspired culture – there would be a lot more pleasure to take from Only Lovers Left Alive. An assortment of exceptional sections appear now and again, but become forgotten in the domestic, commercial side of the film (Eve’s sister, Ava, as a token disruption to the nuclear home and some trashy vampirisms that if omitted could have saved time for more introspective dialogue from the two leads). Certainly a better class of vampire film, with an excellent final shot, just not a classic new Jarmusch film.
***Also posted on LiveForFilms