Writer director Jim Jarmusch is to Indie films what Michael Jackson was to pop music. So the idea of him making a vampire movie, a genre made all too bland and mainstream thanks to Twilight’s sparkle angst, is a tantalizing one. Given his predilection towards outsiders Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is a typically brooding yet warmly affecting drama that sinks its teeth in without ever feeling the need to spill any blood.
Centuries old vampire Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is having thoughts of ending it all. Living a solitary life his only comfort is his music. His wife Eve (Tilda Swinton), living in Tangeier with the Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) fears for her beau and travels to Detroit to be with him. There they reconnect and revel in the past while Adam quietly loathes what man has done to the world. But when Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives it opens up old wounds aiding little in Adam’s fragile state.
There is a wonderfully dark undertone throughout which seems to quietly ponder on Jarmusch’s place in the film industry. That in order to keep their identity a secret some vampires, Marlowe and Adam in particular, have been creating masterpieces through the ages and allowed them into culture through more famous outlets without ever receiving the praise and adulation they deserve. At one point Eve says of a singer’s talent that Adam is enthralled by “I’m sure she’ll be very famous” to which Adam, the true hipster counter-culture embodiment of his director replies “God, I hope not, she’s way too good for that”. It is this statement and everything that it touches upon that Only Lovers Left Alive revolves around.
For the most part it’s a typical Jarmuschian affair, a lethargic musing on everything from life, love, death and companionship without ever feeling the need to force the issue. The vampire mythology is quietly and frequently touched on but rarely advertised. In fact so rich is the back-story that Only Lovers Left Alive could easily be the book ending opening and closing of Interview With A Vampire. There are no flashbacks but it’s made abundantly clear how rich a life both Adam and Eve have lived. If anything the lethargy and vampire context seem like such obvious partners; because when time has no meaning the life of a vampire must often seem long and without purpose.
Perhaps most pertinent of all is Adam’s opinion of humans, who he seems disgusted by and calls ‘zombies’. For while his kind long to create things such as music and literature to last the ages so the ‘zombies’ seem anxious to tear things apart and watch as the decay sets in. Of course Jarmusch only ever hints that there is a sense of jealously lurking in Adam’s mind that he will never age or decay unlike the city of Detroit around him.
Swinton is of course wonderful as the delicate yet simmering Eve. Her waif-like movement combined with her undead pallor are positively radiant in the context of the film. Hiddleston is typically dry and endearing all at once. His look here should make him an absolute shoe-in should Neil Gaiman’s Sandman ever get the big screen treatment and he is the beating heart of this film. His Adam is not so much depressed as he is resigned, echoing sentiments we’ve all felt when looking at the chaos around us. And while her appearance is fleeting Mia Wasikowska continues to demonstrate why she is one of Hollywood’s most understated but brilliant young actresses. It’s unlikely you’ll see her donning a cape of going all Young Adult on us but she is a nymph of a screen presence who never fails to inject an ambiguity to keep your eyes firmly glued.
Only Lovers Left Alive is rarely a coherent whole but there is something seductively poetic here. A decadent, darkly funny look at fame and the life of an immortal, only Jarmusch could make vampires seem grungy yet still wonderfully seductive.