The cinema of Jim Jarmusch is not one that I am particularly familiar with. Haven only seen Broken Flowers prior to his latest feature, I did not know what to expect from a vampire love story courtesy of his creative mind. From what I can gather, he is very much a director who observes moments in an unhurried and minimalist fashion. To bring such an approach to vampires may not initially seem like the greatest prospect in the world, but within a movie business that is cluttered with God-awful visual effects driven movies about the blood-suckers, Only Lovers Left Alive proves to be both a refreshing change of pace and an engrossing love story.
The film follows the relationship of Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), two centuries old vampires who have been married since the 1800’s. When we find them, the pair are living two different lives; Eve is living in Tangier, revelling in the local charms while receiving a steady supply of blood from fellow vampire Marlowe (John Hurt). Adam on the other hand only revels in deep depression, developing moody rock music in his desolate home in Detroit, bored with the modern society and the ‘zombies’ that occupy it. Eve decides to come and stay with Adam in the hope of giving him a new lease of life. Their relationship is compromised though with the arrival of Eve’s young sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).
Only Lovers Left Alive truly sets itself out from the crowd of vampire movies by developing an engrossing relationship between the pairing of Adam and Eve, but also in its depiction of vampirism. These creatures are blood-lusting yes, but they do what they can to ensure that they do not leave bodies in their wake, choosing to find other forms of supply before having to turn/take a life. They have also used their immortality as a chance to be as cultured as they possibly can, devouring the greatest literature, theories and musical orchestrations of human history.
Their need to quench their thirst for culture and human genius is as potent as their need for blood. Adam’s depression is as a result of being fundamentally disappointed at the human race for no longer producing work that is anywhere near the mastery of past creators. He is mourning the loss of creativity and is spiteful of the human race for no longer maintaining their potential. Eve is much more of a free spirit and simply finds joy in the fact that they are able to continue to exist and enjoy the fruits of what once was and what is yet to be.
Hiddleston and Swinton both tap into Jarmuch’s style with ease, downplaying emotions but having a clear chemistry and energy that pulls them together. They are both performers who have incredibly fascinating faces, angular and mysterious yet undeniably beautiful creatures; a quality which makes them rather apt for playing vampires.
The atmosphere of the picture envelops you in an intoxicating and provocative fashion. We are always kept intrigued by the possibilities of what could happen within the existence of these two quite wonderful creatures. Even if nothing much happens, there is a sense that not all is what it seems within the presence of these characters, which reaches its peak with the arrival Ava (a brief but entertaining performance form Wasikowska). There is also a very knowing sense of humour, elevating the film beyond the realms of Art-house cinema to something that is just that bit easier to embrace.
Aesthetically the film thrives off of its environments; the desolation of Detroit, to the sun-bleached stone of the alleyways of the Algiers. Every environment feels lived in and accentuates the fact that we are merely stepping in to a brief moment in the existence of two characters that have lived for hundreds of years and could very well live for 100 more.
Pulsing with a dark and hypnotic soundtrack and throbbing with visual poetry and movement, Jim Jarmusch has crafted a unique picture that offers a fresh perspective on the figure of the vampire. It’s pacing and lack of definitive narrative structure may frustrate some, but for more patient viewers Only Lovers Left Alive is a rewarding and engrossing experience.
4/5- An engrossing, surprisingly witty, utterly intoxicating piece of cinema, featuring two of the coolest performances of the year so far.
Originally published at The Boar: http://theboar.org/2014/02/15/lovers-left-alive/#.Uw-ht86znKc