Like many Jim Jarmusch movies, Only Lovers Left Alive is the sort of film where one chunk of the audience will be wondering what sort of tedium they’ve just had to sit through and another chunk will be hailing it as a masterpiece. He is as impressively idiosyncratic director and his films determinedly refuse to be boxed. Many have described him as a cinematic poet, and it’s a very good description. What he’s great at is creating mood, feeling and thought, where narrative isn’t the driving force, it’s merely the thread that pulls the fabric together.
Tom Hiddleston is Adam, who’s living in Detroit making music but keen that nobody bothers him. That’s partly because he’s a vampire and hundreds of years old. He’s also depressed and filled with weariness at the direction mankind has taken and how it treats the promise it has, to the point whether he’s wondering if there’s any point living on to see the future.
He’s been in a relationship with Eve (Tilda Swinton) for centuries, a woman who’s thousands of years older than even he is. She comes to Detroit to see him, but their loving quietude and her attempts to pull him from his ennui are disrupted by the arrival of Eve’s anarchic ‘sister’, Ava (Mia Wasikowska).
It’s an odd, slowly-paced and surprisingly mesmeric journey. If you’re hoping for narrative drive you’ll be disappointed and rather bored, but if you’re prepared to enter Jarmusch’s richly conceived world there’s plenty to savour, even if not a huge amount happens story-wise.
As with many of the director’s other films, there are times when his love of referencing everything from pop culture to classical history is a little clumsy and film-studenty, but it doesn’t matter too much because unlike most film students, he’s a true artist whose allusions may not always work but still pull into a greater whole (it also allows people who get a few of his references to feel nice and smug, whether they have any clue what relevance making Christopher Marlowe a vampire has or not).
In its odd, ethereal attitude it looks at the primacy of love and connection surviving in a sea of conflict and difficulty. There’s also a lot about life being a dubious bargain, with the film questioning whether it’s a tough deal with God or the Devil (they’re not called Adam and Eve by accident). Like much poetry, there’s a sense that everything is metaphor, but it’s rarely a straightforward metaphor, instead being a hint to take your brain off in various different directions.
As you might be able to tell by now, this is not your typical vampire movie.
Hiddleston and Swinton make a great central couple, and the film is at its best when it’s almost like a two-hander play between them in Adam’s gloomy yet rich Detroit house. Swinton seems ageless at the best of times so makes a perfect ethereal vampire, while Hiddleston is more grounded but could still as easily pass as an 18 Century poet as he could a 60s rocker.
Only Lovers Left Alive is an odd beast and those hoping for something akin to Twilight are going to be bitterly disappointed. Those who want more Loki should look elsewhere too. Jarmusch fans though should be more than happy with this trip back into his redolent world.
The film looks gorgeous on Blu-ray, as while Jarmusch films may sometimes feel like a messy desk, it’s a beautiful desk covered in interesting objects. The Blu-ray also includes plenty of good bonus features, particularly the interviews with Swinton, Hiddleston and Wasikowska, which offer great context and their thoughts about what the film is all about and the ideas Only Lovers surveys.
Overall Verdict: It’s certainly not your typical vampire movie – it wouldn’t be a Jim Jarmusch movie if it was – but it is a rich, odd and dreamy journey, which may take its time to get anywhere but the trip is worth it.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac