Only Lovers Left Alive – Reviewed // Simon Duckett
Dir: Jim Jarmusch
With: Tom Hiddleston
I have to say that in spite of serious antipathy towards both Jim Jarmusch and Tilda Swinton I found myself profoundly connecting with this film. More than once I felt a deep stirring within as if I wanted to join them in their languorous, night-time world of cluttered familiarity and cultured alienation regardless of the cost to my long-term peace of mind.
Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) are vampire lovers who have been around for hundreds of years. At the story’s opening he is a reclusive musician living in an Addams Family style mansion in the abandoned part of Detroit surrounded by musical instruments and old analogue technology. She is in rooms in the old part of Tangier with a large amount of books and an (Apple) iPhone. They drink blood sold to them by specialist suppliers in the manner of rich, eccentric addicts buying top quality drugs. Indeed, they make a ritual out of consuming their blood out of dainty glasses, sighing back in ecstasy as the hits take hold.
Adam is troubled though, suffering from an ennui that despairs at the state of the world; the result of the carelessness of the zombies (that is, humans). As a result Eve agrees to join him in Detroit where they go on drives around the empty, ghostly buildings that is all that is left of the formerly industrial city. Their ordered, discreet existence, however, is shattered by the arrival of Ava (Wasikowska), Eve’s rock-brat younger sister. She annoys Adam by her over familiarity, entering his house and listening to his new music without his permission. She also drinks a great deal of their high quality blood in the manner of a teenager necking all the vodka and makes a move on Adam’s deferential fixer, Ian (Anton Yelchin) who is not in on the secret.
This is quite simply the coolest cinema experience since Drive and the best vampire movie since Byzantium. Jarmusch has created a total world, both realistic yet also dreamlike in its timeless charm. Adam and Eve cruise around the city in a white Jaguar XJS and sunglasses, she in slightly worn white leather and he in dark, charity shop chic, chatting about the people they have known over the centuries. When Ava crashes in she does it with great charm and humour, accusing them of being boring and mocking their concern at her cavalier attitude towards traditional etiquette. At one point, when Eve reprimands her for crossing Adam’s threshold without asking she scornfully asks, “What, are you still afraid of garlic?” Escaping her chaos, the couple return to a softly lit and somehow comforting Tangier after the desolation of Detroit.
As well as the genre knowingness, literary references are scattered throughout. Eve’s supplier in Tangier is Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe (John Hurt), having obviously survived the fight in the Southwark tavern, and when he describes Adam’s ‘suicidal romanticism’ Eve blames Shelley and Byron as well as ‘some French arseholes’. The humour never threatens to tip over into parody though and neither do the cultural nods become pretentious. The director has performed an enormously skilful balancing act between a deadpan light-heartedness and a deeply emotional love story and he has filled the film with some stunning painterly tableaux and an insistent, sinuous soundtrack whilst never forgetting that his characters are the undead and, as such, have teeth.