Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, and John Hurt
From: Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Monte Yazzie
Director Jim Jarmusch has made a career of examining people and the idiosyncrasies they embrace. Whether it’s the journey of three imprisoned men in “Down by Law” or the account of cab drivers from different parts of the world in “Night on Earth”, Jarmusch has the skillful ability of forming fascinating characters that serve the story. While Jarmusch has explored numerous genres, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is his first endeavor into the realm of horror and the subgenre of vampire mythology. What Jarmusch accomplishes with this moody piece of cinema is another achievement in his already impressive career.
Taking place in the nighttime desolation of both Detroit and Tangier, Eve (Tilda Swinton) is a wise and sympathetic vampire who has survived longer than most of her kind. She is in an enduring married relationship with Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a cynical musician whose existence amongst a changing humanity has brought despair into his world. Blood is life and, though they have evolved away from the usual means of human consumption, they drink it from goblets and treat it like a fine wine. All the while observing and scrutinizing a world that is simply beneath their time journeyed experience. Nevertheless the world they are trying to separate themselves from seems to be invading their lives in a destructive way.
For a film about vampires there is very little to consider horrific. While the genre characteristics are in accordance with the well-known lore, like the usual blood drinking and sunlight avoidance, those elements are mostly used for assisting atmosphere. The horror extremes are replaced with multilayered conversations spanning a centuries worth of knowledge and are delivered in a gushing philosophical form from two timeworn vampires. Their discussions are a mix of insightful social commentary, comical diatribes about history, and deliberately ordinary remarks about everyday life. These characters are what keep the momentum moving when the film, which at numerous times, slows to a stationary scene of two people talking. This, in less seasoned hands, could turn into a confused mess but Jarmusch makes nearly every second absorbing.
Like most of Jarmusch’s films character development takes precedent, and Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are impressive in the leads. Swinton, always entertaining to watch, gives Eve compassionate and understanding attributes, while also being susceptible to love. Hiddleston is a gloomy mix of emotions, depressing and self-defeating but also hopeful because of his cherished Eve. John Hurt makes a welcome cameo as Christopher Marlowe, the same person associated with Shakespeare. Marlowe is a vampire who is the local blood provider for the more civil ones of his kind. Hurt is great, offering some of the films most memorable lines concerning his famous history.
There is a certain amount of commitment needed to make it through this film, which will undoubtedly split some viewers wanting more plot developments or genre fans looking for more intense influences from the horror aspect of the story. Still, “Only Lovers Left Alive” may be one of the few vampire films, from the bulk of oversaturation seen in recent years, which will be remembered as one the exceptional films of the genre.
4.00 out of 5.00