It may seem like a while ago, but vampires used to be all the rage in pop culture moviedom. Though the Bellas and Edwards have had their (sparkly) moments in the sun, like a wildly forceful and momentous ocean wave that’s finally crashed- the tide has since, slowly receded. Fortunately, in its wake, it has left behind a poignant and clever vampire flick from a celebrated rebel indie auteur that stands out like the meaningfully philosophic piece of movie prose that it is.
Writer/director Jim Jarmusch returns after 2009’s The Limits of Control to deliver his neo-goth set vampire love story, Only Lovers Left Alive, which circumvents almost every typical convention seen in previous vampire love stories. A better perspective of these characters would be to describe them as simply, “undead,” which they are, having survived for hundreds and thousands of years, living through all the Middles of Ages and Renais’ of sance’s. While our vampires here still shut away from sunlight and thirst for human blood, their interests and simulations come from their worldly knowledge of music, literature, and science, instead of blockbuster fueled teen-beat eye-googling. What Only Lovers offers, instead, is an intellectual mulling over of modern day society, by way of two sunglasses-wearing yet highly cultured creatures of the night.
Inspired loosely by the last book published by Mark Twain, The Diaries of Adam And Eve, this horror movie-done-chill wave is an ode to the duel fixings of cynicism and celebration perceived of civilization’s entire history. As the five hundred-year-old Adam, Tom Hiddleston is a grunge rocker vampire laying low in his electric guitar covered home studio, moseying about only to further add to his cluttered collection of vintage musical hardware and retrieve A-grade human blood from one easily-bought Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright). Adam, with his long tangled mane of Robert Plant hair, feels the pains of what he sees is the downfall of culture, what with all of the middling and trouble that our modern day society dirties our hands with. Adam’s defeated sense of acceptance of this, which Hiddleston oozes and synthesizes wonderfully here, gives his vampire a burdening weight that gives his vampire more substance and conflict than any we’ve seen before (and frankly, this character motivation makes a whole lot of sense, having once witnessed all of history’s greatest brilliances and geniuses in action).
Though the intrinsic DNA in the movie won’t appeal to most audiences, this is still one of Jarmusch’s most accessible and conventional films to date and provides a window into his worldview while still keeping a healthy balance of art and entertainment.
Perhaps Jarmusch is allowing some of his own distasteful feelings on how today’s non-high-brow culture rules things, to bleed in (a constant joke is Adam’s calling of all Angeleno’s “zombies,”), but to counter-balance Adam’s depressions is the perfectly sprite intellectual-ista, Eve (Tilda Swinton). With her five thousand years of living over Adam’s mere five hundred, she finds complete resolve and fulfillment in the endless consumptions of fine art and sciences, and easily maintains her positive outlook on life. So when a nearly-suicidal Adam (like I said, depressed) phones his centuries-old lover in her residing place of Tangiers, she immediately flies over to him, to reconnect, and to talk things out. Which they do. As stated previously, most of this movie is an outlet for both world views to just express themselves, which is played with steady yet slow-moving storytelling.
Viewers should know early on, especially those unfamiliar with a Jarmusch film- this movie is one to watch with patience. The director’s off-beat pension for showcasing the alternative is captured wonderfully here, making this a welcome and fun addition to his body of work. The sly sensibilities of the writer/director are further evidenced here, with the vampires oh so casually referencing and comparing their time spent in the 1500’s to now, as well as the nearly parodying effect of wearing their sunglasses indoors. In fact, “sly” would perhaps best illustrate the mental space from which Jarmusch is working from in large part here: though they are vampires, they don’t hunt for their blood. Though they are lovers, they get their resolve from each other’s emotional fulfillments rather than from wild and crazy bed rattling. Though they drink human blood, it is for sustainment only, as they both get their fixes from vials rather than unsuspecting humans. In a cheeky display, Eve impresses Adam with a homemade blood popsicle, and Adam points out fellow Detroit rocker Jack White’s home, illustrating the comedic leanings that this post-modern flick simultaneously plays with.
Adding to the high-brow world that Adam and Eve live in is the wise, if not near the end of his life, Marlowe (John Hurt), whose centuries-old existence shows a life of grace and accomplishment (In this, Marlowe secretly wrote Shakespeare’s finest works). Also accompanying and providing additional story lines are the young and impulsive sister to Eve, Ava (Mia Wasikowska, who gives another fresh performance from the many we’ve seen from the talented actress), and Adam’s mortal go-to man Ian (Anton Yelchin) whose admiration for the reclusive rock star may bring him into a newly dangerous world.
Dark and swirly, as everything from the opening title sequence to the low-fi guitar-fuzzed soundtracking, to the nighttime photographing of Detroit and Tangiers, is, it all sets the stage for this tone poem of a movie. Though the intrinsic DNA in the movie won’t appeal to most audiences, this is still one of Jarmusch’s most accessible and conventional films to date and provides a window into his worldview while still keeping a healthy balance of art and entertainment. If you’d like a new perspective of the modern age or even vampires, allow a modern master and talented company to provide that singular and unique experience for you.