After a slew of Twilight films (plus the novels that begat millions of Twi-Hard fans), it’s safe to say the last thing you’d expect writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Ghost Dog – The Way of the Samurai, Down By Law) to create is a vampire film. So, of course, that’s exactly what he did. In Only Lovers Left Alive, the new movie written and directed by Jarmusch, celluloid vampires return to their roots in a languid flow of color and music. Alternating between the ruins of Detroit and the warmth of Tangiers, the film is a liquid, entrancing art house gem that never loses the audience’s attention– despite its slow pace and spare plot. Jarmusch makes the most of his night shoots too, turning ordinary places into haunted fairylands.
Since the film is mostly detailed character sketches, the actors’ skills and chemistry are paramount. Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) center the movie as married vampires who geographically live almost a world apart. Their looks and personalities are near polar opposites too. He has a thatch of listless black hair, wears black all the time, and regards the world with a weary sense of ennui. She sports white-blond hair, wears cream and cinnamon, and delights in everything she comes across. But when a Skype conversation reveals Adam’s deep depression, Eve drops everything and hops a night flight to Detroit via Paris.
Their meeting outside his isolated home crackles with electricity and desire, managing to convey a deep-rooted love that physical distance clearly did not harm. A later shot of the two sprawled naked on a bed fitted with black sheets, brought audible gasps from the audience– and proved Jarmusch was not here to “play”. His vampire film ignores the teen angst so closely associated with the genre in recent years– preferring to lean toward Bram Stoker’s original Dracula and such influences as The Hunger (a 1983 film starring Swinton’s older doppelgänger, David Bowie). The vampires who populate Only Lovers Left Alive are old and dangerous– as addicted to life as they are to blood.
Other characters help frame the lovers’ main story, ably accentuating Adam and Eve’s strong personalities. John Hurt plays Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, Eve’s procurer in Tangiers. Mia Wasikowska trips in as Ava– Eve’s “little sister”– who clearly does not have her life (or unlife) together, behaving like a spoiled junkie child. Anton Yelchin is Ian, a young human who brings Adam basically anything he wants in return for Adam’s money and music.
Like everything else, the film’s dramatic tension builds with slow patience… And, at times, it’s dark and lovely. Jarmusch knows how to create vibrant, distinct characters– adding greatly to the movie’s mature mood. Adam and Eve are truly remarkable vampires… Understanding they live in a world full of disappointment and despair, they also come to realize it’s an existence full of beauty and joy.
That’s an odd message for a vampire movie… But also a gorgeous one.