Moody, deep, and atmospheric, Jim Jarmusch applies his trademark hipster affect to the vampire genre. It mostly succeeds.
A few words kept running through my head while I was watching Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. One of them was “languorous.” This film deliberately lacks inertia, depicting the lives of immortal vampires to be slow-moving and angsty. Why be in a hurry to do anything, when you literally have all the time in the world? Why keep up with the new stuff when the new will be old in the blink of an eye? As such, Jarmusch’s vampire characters tend to slink slowly, talk slowly, and concern themselves only with the ancient; Adam (Tom Hiddleston) collects vintage guitars, uses dated recording equipment, and dreams of the days when he would hang out with Shelley and Byron.
The second world that came to mind, incidentally, was “Byronic.” These vampire creatures have no respect for the world of humans – nicknamed “zombies” – spending the bulk of their time absorbing pre-Enlightenment literature, brooding intensely in their cluttered palatial caves. And while our two main characters Adam and Eve (Tilda Swinton) do have sex and enjoy one another’s physical company, it’s a muted, paled, ancient relationship that has more to do with comfort than to do with direct sexual passion. These are characters who savor their self-obsession (at least Adam does), and who cherish their adolescent isolation. Adam is not a suave Lestat. He’s more like an Edward Cullen by way of Nick Cave. He mopes around his dusty rooms with vintage guitars – vintage guitars that rock snobs will have orgasms just looking at. John Hurt appears as Christopher Marlowe – yes, that Christopher Marlowe – and he wryly comments that Adam would have made a good model character for when he was writing Hamlet. Oops. Let that cat out of the bag.
I was a little baffled – as you likely are as well – that Jim Jarmusch, that most urbane of directors, would choose to make a genre film about creatures of the night. But in a way, it makes perfect sense. Jarmusch has always been interested in characters who live by a deliberately slowed tempo. Their speech is carefully chosen, and their meetings take a long time. So, in a way, Only Lovers Left Alive is the first time his characters’ slowed hipster affect had a dramatic reason to be.
Also, in a weird way, this is Jarmusch’s most mature movie as well. It may deal with genre tropes, but this is the first time he seems to have dealt with a palpable and adult relationship between two characters. Adam and Eve have been separated for a century, and when they reunite, their affection is still there. It’s one of those rare films that derives its romance from a sustained marriage rather than the blustering clumsy passion of first love, or the pathos-driven tragedy of a breakup.
Only Lovers Left Alive may be too languorous (to reuse the word) for some, and the late-film addition of the ditzy Mia Wasikowska (and hence, the introduction of an actual plot) feels a little bit clumsy. I know it’s the director’s MO, and it’s certainly the ethos of the characters, but there was perhaps just five or ten minute too much of outright meandering. Overall, this is not Jarmusch’s best film – it doesn’t approach the odd energy of something like Ghost Dog or Down By Law or Night on Earth, but it’s a sight better than his last film, the truly awful 2009 WTF-fest The Limits of Control.
If anything, one can go to see this movie for the arch sexiness of the two leads. If you have a crush on either Swinton or Hiddleston (as I know so many do), then this movie is 130 minutes of awesome, cool-as-a-bloodsicle eye candy. If you like music, this film has the esoteric expertise of a proper rock historian. In short, Only Lovers Left Alive is damn cool.
Rating: 3.5 Burritos