by Kathie Smith
Cultivation never looked as cool as it does in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, a languorous elegy for the world written in the solicited blood of a vampire. The dark caverns of these undead are lined with vinyl records, vintage guitars, beautifully bound books, framed photos, and electronic gadgetry rigged with inspiration from Nikola Tesla. Considering Jarmusch has certainly had some practice in portraying sublime sophistication (and sometimes not at the behest of the nonchalant characters), this dose of affectation oozes into every inch of the settings and every pore of the characters as they wile away their time in the intellectual ennui of everlasting life. The resulting saunter will be a comfortable playground for fans but a tedious sabbatical for others.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Producers: Reinhard Brundig, Jeremy Thomas
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Cinematographer: Yorick Le Saux
Music: Jozef van Wissem
Editor: Affonso Gonçalves
Cast: Tilda Sinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright
Premiere: May 25, 2013 – Cannes Film Festival
US Theatrical Release: April 11, 2014
US Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Our tour guides are Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), who currently maintain a long-term relationship between the distant locales of Detroit and Tangiers. But Adam has hit a rough patch and is disenchanted with the state of the world: “It’s the zombies that I’m sick of, and their fear of their own fucking imaginations.” The zombies he refers to are the mortal clock watchers of the 21st century that fail to inspire him like Lord Byron and Franz Schubert used to (contrary to the fact that his own music, a sort of post-modern drone, easily parallels contemporary creations made by imaginations that he categorically reviles). His depressive state forces him to commission a wooden bullet (presumably for suicide), but also spurs Eve into action for a visit, arranging sequential overnight flights from Morocco to France, France to Michigan.
Adam and Eve’s donnish romp, which retains a disappointingly Eurocentric vibe, makes up the bulk of the movie with a little black market blood buying and late night exploring of Detroit thrown in (including a visit to the amazing Michigan Building, now a car park and further proof to Adam’s theory of societal decline). The movie takes great pains to portray Adam and Eve as the ultimate tastemakers, skewing towards the glories of Romanticism with random nods to the likes of Joe Strummer and Buster Keaton for good measure. The somber nostalgia only wanes for the evanescent ecstasy induced by a sherry glass of human blood. But not just any blood and certainly not barbarically sucked from the jugular of a dirty “zombie.” Their fluid of choice is procured through ascetic methods that both deny and save them from the erotic carnality of fangs to the throat.
Their subdued apple cart is upset when Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), a freewheeling, party-loving vamp, shows up for an uninvited visit. Although an implied rift between Ava and Adam and Eve is not specified (“Are you still upset about the Paris thing?”), Ava represents verve for immortality from which they have turned away. Ava pilfers blood, snoops through Adam’s music, and eventually, after a night at a rock show, follows her bloodthirsty impulses too far, necessitating Adam and Eve to move on, perhaps permanently.
Jarmusch’s enthusiastic awareness of the mise en scène in Only Lovers Left Alive buoys the lethargic meander to a bohemian rhapsody, adding another visual chapter to the dogma of vampire culture. Adam and Eve (apparently a name check to Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve, not original sin) are each other’s yin and yang not only emotionally but also stylistically—dark and light in vintage store elegance. Gloves and sunglasses are all part of the costume, but so is an ancient mop of hair frizzed and dreaded from centuries of night dwelling. But Jarmusch is best at setting this groove with a sense of place: Adam’s hoarder mansion set in a perpetually indigo Detroit, a zombie haven if there ever was one; Eve’s modish boudoir nestled among the amber lit alleys of Tangiers with solicitous men around every corner.
If there is a cord struck in Only Lovers Left Alive, a film weighted with deadpan doom and gloom, it is one of companionship—in this case, the companionship of an eternity. Eve may be responsible for pulling Adam from the edge, but he also acts as her eclectic muse that binds her to the world, whether it’s through a psychic connection as he jams in Detroit and she spins in circles in Tangiers, or an intimate dance together to a 45 of Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped By a Thing Called Love”—endearing moments despite the self-aware, name-dropping ethos that wears a little thin. Jarmusch builds a beautiful set piece around their isolated rapport and delivers it with undeniable signature style. Only Lovers Left Alive will march in the parade as a vampire movie, but it’s really a story about finding solace, against all odds, with an individual of your own kind.