Published Apr 24, 2014Known for a preoccupation with projecting an image of the coolly detached, deep-thinking artiste, Jim Jarmusch has managed to effectively yoke his pretentious hipster B.S. to the service of a beautiful, hilariously banal and highly cynical tale of immortality.
Bluntly put, Only Lovers Left Alive is the NYC-based auteur's masterpiece. Yes, it's David Byrne's hair twin's best film, but more importantly, the hypnotic story of how two vampires cope with endless existence gives the filmmaker an opportunity to explore and integrate the major obsessions prevalent in Jarmusch's body of work. Namely: music, art, death, mystery, fashion, love, sex, power and boredom.
In a stroke of inspired casting, Tom Hiddleston (The Deep Blue Sea, Thor) and Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) play undead lovers reunited after some time apart. Nothing dramatic separated them; it's just that, after centuries together, a few years spent on opposite ends of the globe is as natural as enjoying a weekend to yourself when you're in a long-term relationship.
It's certainly not symptomatic of any loss of affection. As soon as Adam (Hiddleston), a moody, melodramatic musician, displays signs of depression during a video chat, Eve (yes, they're those kind of sappy, hopeless romantics) books a series of connecting redeye flights from Tangier to Detroit to be with her beloved. They've been through this before. They've been through a great deal, including the decline of great civilizations, much like the current source of Adam's oft-indulged sadness: the deterioration of America.
Speaking to one of the film's primary themes, the cyclical nature of all things is symbolized directly by an opening shot of a revolving night sky that slowly bleeds into the spinning of a turntable. Stopping short of an overt Ouroboros reference, the topic is regularly broached in the conversations about music, literature, history and need that make up the bulk of the film.
Anyone looking for a traditional narrative or the kind of sex and violence typically associated with even classy bloodsucker cinema such as Let the Right One In, Byzantium or Thirst will be looking in the wrong place. Only Lovers Left Alive is a visually poetic love story with a wry, jaded sense of humour about finding reasons to wake up every night.
As Eve adroitly points out, Adam uses his dismay at the way "the zombies" — their term for modern humans — worship disposable entertainment and greedily poison the planet as a scapegoat for what is simply routine depression. In archetypal artist fashion, the reclusive musician transforms his pain into a form of beauty, but can't resist toying with self-destruction.
Conversely, the extrovert in the relationship, Eve thrives on voracious curiosity, completely enamoured with the endless nuances of creation and all its multifarious manifestations. Generated between the dedicated talents of the two leads is an affectionate familiarity that provides a great platform for digging at truths about the excuses we make not to enjoy life because of how pointless it all feels sometimes.
Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright all turn in memorable supporting performances, creating distinct personalities with their limited screen time. As a member of the vampire clan with a reliable contact for clean blood — even vampires need to worry about where their food is coming from — John Hurt just does his thing, but that thing is appropriate for the part.
References to vampire contributions to famous literature and music tiptoe dangerously close to Forrest Gump territory, but are usually doled out with enough droll sarcasm to shrug off any lingering stink of gimmickry.
Beautifully shot and designed, with a languid tone and stunning colour palette, the attentive, highly specific style is customary of Jarmusch's work, but Only Lovers Left Alive is the first of his efforts to demonstrate commensurate, winking, self-critical wit.