Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Strange Paradise: The Cinema of Jim Jarmusch. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
What does a modern vampire do nowadays? If you’re immortal you’ve probably travelled the world, read all of the books, heard all of the music, and seen all of the things that time lays out before you. Up until now, the perspective of the vampire has either been of the monstrous Dracula or the teenage whiner with a god complex. Few films delve into a magic surrealism that is ever present in just creating the vampire myth. While Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In offers a comedic noir bent, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is a slick interpretation of the blood drinker’s mythos: how bored would you be if your time were limitless?
Up until now, the perspective of the vampire has either been of the monstrous Dracula or the teenage whiner with a god complex.
Set in both decaying Detroit and exotically rich Tangier, we meet Adam (Tom Hiddleston). Adam is a Detroit vampire, a reclusive and enigmatic musician honing his craft while his teenage fans camp out to get a chance to see their idol. He calls humans zombies and forecasts hell and damnation to the modern human race. Tilda Swinton plays Eve. She’s Adam’s wife who lives in Tangier and gathers her blood supply from writer Christopher Marlowe, who also happens to be a vampire. Type O negative is their pure choice of blood, of which they have to be sure of its source for blood contamination is a fate they cannot survive from (it isn’t made clear what kind of contamination they are referring to though).
The film’s tagline or description describes the plot as the story of these vampires’ lives disrupted by the arrival of Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska). She’s a young, or rather, troublesome vampire that wreaks havoc in her wake. However, Only Lover’s Left Alive is more a slice of life, a captured moment in time, and a statement about the troubled state of the present world. As Adam and Eve drive through the remnants of downtown Detroit, they deliberate on the fate of the dying city. While Adam despairs at what civilization has done to itself, Eva maintains that empires have fallen and have historically proven to rise again.
There is no particularly defining event that ties the film as a whole, but it stands solid through its languorous meditations of its exquisite settings and sets. Stylistically, Jarmusch frames his lens with the nostalgic filigree that Adam and Eve adorn themselves with. There’s a quiet moment in the film where Eve goes through a pile of discarded books in her stairwell. They’re all haphazardly placed, as if she threw them there after devouring them in her furious reading sessions. Adam’s old studio of analog and antique recording gear is an audiophile hoarder’s dream. The camera studies the sets, the scenery, and its characters like museum treasures. These pieces are both for admiration and ridicule for Jarmusch romanticizes his characters in their archaic language and mannerisms, but the irony of their privilege isn’t lost in the story. While Eve uses a cellphone camera to see and talk to her beloved, Adam wires up his old television set via a stubborn grandfather’s touchtone telephone. The vampires live in the now the only way they can, through hilarious snobbery and touching love for their old ways.
You find yourself marveling at the charmed beauty of the vampires because they are so rock and roll, yet are content to mull over their less than stellar reviews of their potential prey.
What I enjoy most of Jarmusch cinematic styles are his attention to detail even if the scene is stark and sparse. His films tend to be at night or in the dark so a vampire flick suits his punk rock spirit extraordinarily well. You find yourself marveling at the charmed beauty of the vampires because they are so rock and roll, yet are content to mull over their less than stellar reviews of their potential prey.
“You always have the convenience of the zombies to blame when you get low,” Eva says to Adam as he disses humans for their treatment of their scientists. Nothing is said of their power over humans, thus it seems they’ve reached the end of the hourglass.
I thoroughly enjoyed Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s artistically minded, but not overly so. It’s complexities lie in the quiet perfection that dwells in Swinton and Hiddleston’s understated performances. It’s a story good enough to contemplate over a tall glass of wine as the television drones on about the future fate of our world.
It’s complexities lie in the quiet perfection that dwells in Swinton and Hiddleston’s understated performances. It’s a story good enough to contemplate over a tall glass of wine as the television drones on about the future fate of our world.