Jim Jarmusch’s genre films have always had a certain swagger to them. A cool indifference as to whether or not the audience will “get it”. Only Lovers Left Alive, Jarmusch’s latest offering, is steeped in that same air of confidence. Similar to the rock star at the centre of it, the film could care less about its current contemporaries.
Ultimately it is this nonchalant approach that solidifies the overall sexy allure of the film. Like a teenager infatuated with an older student, I found myself drawn into the film the more it ignored my presence. Jarmusch crafts a vampire film that never feels obligated to adhere to its genre conventions. In fact, even calling it a vampire film feels like an act of conformity in itself.
Though the film has its expected nods, such as characters booking only nighttime flights and eating blood popsicles, the vampire lore feels almost secondary in the grand scheme of things. Jarmusch works on the assumption that audiences are so familiar with the tropes of the genre, which they are, that there is no need to officially acknowledge it. Just as common as I breathe air, I consumed the natural poetic elegance of Only Lovers Left Alive without giving it a second thought.
The hypnotic ease of the film’s pace had me in a trance to the point where one could almost miss the plot altogether. The story revolves around Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a reclusive musician who has become dejected by the state of the modern world. He looks down on mankind, referring to them as “zombies”, and blames their greed for ruining the historical beauty of the city of Detroit in which he resides. The only zombie that Adam seems to genuinely tolerate is Ian (Anton Yelchin), a young man who is willing to be his errand boy to simply be in Adam’s rock star presence.
Living through centuries where artistic pursuits were cherished and cultivated, the bleakness that the modern technological landscape has fostered has left little for Adam to desire. Seeing that her husband is in a dangerously depressed state, Eve (Tilda Swinton) leaves her home in Tangier to be by his side. Jarmusch never reveals why the couple lives apart, but alludes to it possibly having something to do with Eve’s wild sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).
In an odd way, Only Lovers Left Alive reminded me of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris in the way it romanticizes the past. Old works of literature, vintage guitars and classic automobiles are cherished like essential minerals for life itself. The nods and winks to the great achievements in history flow off the screen while still managing to feel natural. Adam refuses to talk on iPhones and Androids favoring his own contraption using technology pioneered by Nikola Tesla. One can image Adam and Tesla sitting around, back in the day, bouncing ideas off each other and discussing life. Similar to the way in which Jarmusch displays Eve conversing with the great writer Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). Portrayed as a fellow vampire, Marlowe is still alive and creating new works while also providing Eve with the purest blood supply in Tangier. This is a stark contrast to Adam, who must sneak around hospitals to illegally obtain his blood supply from a corrupt doctor (Jeffery Wright).
The nostalgia towards the past, and the way Adam and Eve react to it, plays heavily into the biblical undertones that are in the air of the film. Watching them tour around Detroit and lamenting an era gone by, my mind imagined that this is what it must have been like for Adam and Eve being cast out of paradise. Lovers trying to make sense of the bleak remains of what was once a vibrant landscape. A familiar home that now seems foreign and cold.
Only Lovers Left Alive is easily Jarmusch’s most accessible film to date. What makes it even more special is the fact that he at no point compromises the style of filmmaking that has made him such a unique director. Like a true rock star, the film moves to its own romantic, and melancholic, beat. It is a beautiful love story that is one of the better films you will see this year.
Good post. What a cast! I’m a big fan of Tilda Swinton. How’d she do? It looks visually stunning.
Tilda Swinton is fantastic in the film. I like that she took a more subdued approach to the character. As for the visuals, they are also quite good. Not necessarily as strong as some of Jarmusch’s other works but solid nonetheless.
It mostly worked because Jarmusch pays close attention to these characters and makes them seem any bit of sympathetic. Even if they are blood-sucking vampires. Good review.
True, Jarmusch’s genre films have always been more character first and genre second. He really does make us feel more connected to the characters in this one than he does in film like Dead Man.
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